Chris Sell
09 Nov, 2004

Gradius V Review

PS2 Review | Proof that the 2D shooter is far from dead.
Do you remember the days where the graphics of a game were a minor detail and the true value of the game was determined simply on the strength of its gameplay? Do you remember days where storylines and flashy cutscenes were an afterthought and challenging, fast and fun gameplay was all that mattered? Gradius V serves as the perfect reminder to us about what made gaming what it is today. This fifth installment in the Gradius series, as most people in the know are aware, was actually made by Treasure. The same Treasure who brought us the recent classic Ikaruga, which was released on the Gamecube last year (and the Dreamcast the year before). They also created Radiant Silvergun, which was released on the Sega Saturn and still goes for obscene prices on online auctions to this day - a game considered by many as the best shooter of all time

The original Gradius, for those not familiar, was a side-scrolling shooter that pretty much invented the genre as it is recognized today. It was a major influence on all the greats – including R-Type. Gradius V sees you once again piloting the combat ship Vic Viper into war against endless waves of alien enemies. Enemies that don't require you to think twice about filling the screen, leaving little space to move or spewing bullets all over the place meaning maneuvering is as vital to the game as the ability to shoot. Unlike previous Treasure shooters, which tended to follow a slight puzzle orientated theme, Gradius V is a pretty much straight-up affair where shooting everything in sight is the order of the day rather than performing chains and switching colours, as in Ikaruga for example. That's not to say things are limited as you have access to a compliment of weapons. Similar to the previous Gradius games, Gradius V gives you a choice of power ups to boost your arsenal. What stands out as a unique difference is the method of selection: instead of collecting weapons as you progress, you have a selection bar at the bottom of the screen. Eliminating certain enemies leaves behind a glowing core which, when collected, moves an indicator along the selection bar, comprised of 'speed up', 'double' shots, 'missiles', 'lasers', one hit 'shields' and most importantly, your ‘Options’. These Options are glowing balls that surround the Vic Viper and shoot whenever you are shooting. There are four different types of 'Options' that must be selected at the start (more can be unlocked). Type 1, for example, allows you to lock the ‘Options’ in a single position with the press of the R button. Press R with the Type 4 Option however and the option whirls around your ship in a protective circle. The other Options offer multi-directional fire, which you can lock in place with the R button when holding what direction you wish the Options to fire in. Up to 4 Options can be held at once. Once any upgrade is activated, it resets and you must collect more pickups to start the process again. The whole process really makes you think about which element is most vital to your progress at the time. Do you go for a boost in speed, or do you hold on to get another Option to boost your firepower?

One of many of Gradius V's superb boss battles

One of many of Gradius V's superb boss battles
The gameplay in Gradius V stays true to what you would expect from a game of this type. There are large varied levels ranging from the wide-open spaces of outer space to claustrophobic shafts inside huge buildings where a single pixel in the wrong direction is all that separates success and failure. The most exciting portion of Gradius V is the boss fights. It's the boss fights where the now, tiny, hit-box of Vic Viper comes into play the most. It allows the players to navigate through the most claustrophobic gaps, evade masses of enemy fire and burying indestructible parts of the ship in walls. As long as you protect the 'core' of your ship you will survive. The idea of ‘the core’ is central to Gradius's boss fights. The Core, normally a blue, glowing mass of energy hidden behind the boss’s armour plates, is the weak spot of every boss. Locating the weak spot isn’t the problem – managing to hit it, however, is. The bosses use their own weaponry, their shields and the surrounding environment to destroy you. The level 2 boss, for example appears in numerous forms, each one with a greater number, but harder to reach, cores to attack with your guns, whilst also boxing you in or closing you out, depending on its configuration. This adds a quick thinking puzzle element to the game that is most welcome. Memorizing the layout of the ship and the attack patterns is the key in order to devise a successful attack plan. The levels themselves are just as impressively designed with a brilliantly well-judged learning curve and do remain exactly the same with each play, so learning every inch of them properly reaps rewards. I feel the ability to alter your flight plan through different routes would have made for a great addition, especially with you meeting up with other allies who are going a different way through the level themselves, it leaves you wondering where they went and what they fought on their journey. Perhaps some branching stages will sneak onto Gradius VI, should there ever be one.

As with the past games, Gradius V is hard. Very hard. Arguably the hardest game this generation. To aid, Treasure has included an option called Reflex. When you die your ‘Options’ remain on the screen for you to collect on your next life. Any power cores you had stocked will revert to the first option (speed) regardless of how far you had progressed along the bar. Previous instalments left you with absolutely nothing once you died, and hurled you back to a former part of the stage, but the design of Gradius V tends to feel overwhelming difficult without having enough firepower on board. You can, if you like, remove this option in the configuration, but I really think that the game was designed with having it turned on in mind. Eventually you can earn unlimited continues, so one way or another you'll see every level if you put enough time into it.

Now that's going to be a tight squeeze!

Now that's going to be a tight squeeze!
Presentation-wise Gradius V is very impressive. Using a 3D engine on a 2D plane, each area boasts vast, rich looking environments; rotating scenery, falling objects and waves of screen filling enemies standing between you and death. The enemies are divinely crafted, spraying bullets from all directions filling the screen making it feel as if the whole galaxy is against you. Everything is crisp and clean with a very stable frame rate. End-of-level bosses, colossal in size and seemingly indestructible, never fail to intimidate. The soundtrack fits the game perfectly providing something near Ikaruga standards in that respect and certainly gets the adrenaline running with its high tempo while all sound effects are suitably filled with floor shaking bass.

Quite simply put - this is the finest horizontal shooter on the PlayStation 2. In fact, it’s the finest horizontal shooter on any of the next-generation systems and a game that I can happily list as an 'essential' title to mention whenever asked what are the best games on PS2. It’s sad that you don’t see games of this type released in PAL territories much these days. Hopefully Gradius V can buck this trend, since its merely further proof that despite some companies pouring millions into over-hyped games, despite all the flashy graphics and irrelevant details like a car having the correct wheel trims or a racing having a 'trendy' licensed soundtrack, most can all still be completely outclassed by a game, where its roots are 17 years it’s senior. Considering it can be found for cheaper than normal, this is an essential purchase.
The Score
An essential purchase for all shooter fans and a perfect way to start for newcomers to the genre. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 years ago
heh, i love 2d shooters...

we downloaded Raiden 2 onto uni's PC's... i'm sure it had a detrimental effect on my final grade...

i'm gonna have to hire this one i think icon_smile.gif
9 years ago
argh xd
Curse you PS2 for having leet shooter games *shakes fist*

This sounds quite good icon_smile.gif
9 years ago
its ok lucky i have hd loader icon_razz.gif icon_twisted.gif blockbuster video here we come by the way got grand turismo 4 jap version its um shit !!!!!!
9 years ago
Good review. I agree for the most part. Except Vic Viper is the pilot, the ship is called TS 301 or something.

It's a great game, but annoyingly hard sometimes. So far I've managed to survive until level 3. Haven't really had time to play it. Decided my favourite set up is Type 1, keep forgetting that you can't have the double/tail-gun and lasers though.
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