aka Gradius Collection in the US.
Here’s a game collection that’s bound to get retro gamers excited. Gradius Portable packs in five classic shoot ‘em ups into one UMD disc so you can hone your piloting anywhere. On the disc are arcade quality ports of Gradius I-IV and Gradius Gaiden which was released for the PS1.
Gradius was where the entire series began, so out of the five it’s the simplest of the bunch. The game you’re getting isn’t the same as the NES cart. Although it was a faithful port, the NES version of Gradius didn’t look as sharp as its arcade predecessor. In the game you’ll pilot the Vic Viper through enemy territory to save your home planet. At the beginning the Vic Viper is a weak ship. Your gun is a single bullet pea shooter and you move at the pace of a turtle. The only way you’re going to survive the seven levels which vary from a volcano to a Moai area is to collect glowing power ups that enemies drop. Unlike other shoot ‘ems which automatically upgrade your lasers, Gradius introduced the weapon bar. Players can choose how to transform the Vic Viper from a child’s toy to a death machine. “Speed up” is the first power up in rotation, which gives you the necessary speed boost so you can dodge enemy shots. Missiles are up next, then a double shot, followed by a powerful laser beam. Instead of increasing your fire power right away you can save up power capsules to get an option, a glowing orb that follows your every action. Options trail you, but more importantly they fire when you do. Finally you can pick up a front shield to absorb some of the incoming bullets. Out of all the games Gradius is still the same classic you remember from all those years before and because of that it’s still a blast to play. The PSP arcade port emulates the game flawlessly, with no real signs of slowdown even when you’re loaded with options.
Gradius II might not look that different from Gradius, but there are a number of upgrades that keep the game fresh. Gradius II introduced multiple weapons bars, which you got to choose from at the beginning of the game. You could pick the standard weapon set or opt for a weapon bar with two way missiles and a wide range ripple laser. Each weapon bar altered gameplay slightly, which gave the game a boost in the replay department. Gradius II also introduced the force field option for a shield. The force field absorbs fewer hits, but it covers the entire ship. Gradius II also had all new level design. In the first level you were maneuvering the Vic Viper around mini suns and fire dragons. The next level has you blast a path through a mesh web. Then later on you’re dropping missiles on a giant brain. Different challenges in every level are a plus. Also to note is the music in Gradius II, it’s probably the best of the series. Even to this day it still sounds great on the PSP. Like the first game, Gradius II has no problems on the PSP.
Now we get to Gradius III. The Gradius III you’re getting in this package is the arcade version of Gradius III and not the Super Nintendo game. The arcade version has some notable differences, like the insane difficulty. Gradius III requires lots of patience to master where sand lions are going to pop out and the order of ice blocks that you need to dodge. The Super NES game is a walk in the park compared to the arcade game. The ultimate equalizer is that the Konami Code works in Gradius III and all the other games. If you pause the game then hit up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, X, O the Vic Viper will get a slew of power ups. Konami did put a limit on this code, once per level completed, which prevents players from abusing it. The code could make Gradius III playable, if it wasn’t for the horrendous slowdown. It doesn’t matter if you have four options or none, the Vic Viper doesn’t control quite right. Players have to learn to play the game in slow motion with unfortunate bursts of sped up action. Nothing is worse than escaping a bunch of bullets to have the game start running at a faster speed so you fly into a wall. The erratic speed makes a great game impossible to enjoy. Out of all the Gradius games, III has the best weapon system. It introduced a bunch of new weapons like the E. Laser which can be charged up and reduce to shrink your ship down. Gradius III gave players free reign to make their own weapon bar with whatever combination of missile, double, laser, option formation and shield they wanted. Great stuff, but the PSP collection might have fared better if it had the SNES game instead of the arcade port.
While Gradius I-III shows the evolution of the series IV is a huge step backwards. Gradius IV removes the weapon editing system introduced in three and forces players to choose from one of six preset weapon bars. Then there’s the level design in Gradius IV, which is strikingly similar to all of the other games in the series. For instance the first level of Gradius IV has a bunch of liquid metal orbs with golden dragons floating around. It’s pretty much the same thing as the first level in Gradius II, just with a palette shift. There are some new bosses to face, but Gradius IV ends up feeling more like a fresh coat of paint on old levels than a new game. It might look the sharpest out of the bunch, but it doesn’t feel like anything special. At least the game doesn’t have the same slowdown problems as III does.
Out of all the games the PS1 only release, Gradius Gaiden is the gem of the collection. You start out the game by selecting your ship. Choose the Vic Viper if you want the classic weapon set up or if you’re a fan of Life Force try out Lord British who has a ripple laser and two way missiles. Newcomer, Jade Knight brings a brand new round laser. Instead of firing a straight shot the round laser emits a small circle around your ship and your options. With four snaking options, the round laser is a force to be reckoned with. The Falchion Beta gives players an automatically aiming double shot or a gravity laser that leaves behind an explosive ball of energy when it hits a ship. New to the series is the ability to power up weapons twice. Improve the power of missiles or strength your laser an extra level. Probably the best innovation in Gradius Gaiden is that you can order the weapon bar around as you please. Speed up doesn’t have to be the first thing on the list. If you can’t get through the game put shield first, if you don’t prefer a certain laser put the other kind of shot at the end. Instead of reusing old levels like in Gradius IV, Gaiden has all new levels. Take the first stage, an artic area with land ledges that fall or rise. Another level has killer flowers that you need to shoot at the base so you can fly past them. To seal the deal of making Gaiden an all around excellent title are sharp graphics and a great soundtrack.
Gradius Portable comes with a couple of extras like intact intro videos from the PS1 Gradius Collection and Gradius IV’s video. You can also adjust the screen to use the PSP’s widescreen format or revert back to a standard square with borders. To make the game truly portable Konami added in a quicksave feature. Players can save the game at any time by pausing the game. Since there isn’t a limit on how many times you can reload you can avoid some of the frustration by reloading every time you die. Another neat feature is you can alter the wait time in the options menu. This is essentially a way to alter the amount of slowdown in the game. Unfortunately, even at wait time zero Gradius III still has severe problems.
If you’re into the Graidus series picking up Gradius portable is a no brainer. It’s a value compared to buying Gradius Collection, Gradius Gadien and Graidus III & IV for the PS2.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0
All of the menus except the save menu are in English. If you don’t want to wait for the US release you can pick it up now without having to worry about any language barriers.
Konami announced that there would be a release for Gradius Portable. It will be renamed Gradius Collection and is scheduled to be on store shelves in the middle of 2006.
+ Pros: Five Gradius games in one portable package, what more could you ask for?
- Cons: There are still slowdown problems even with games that are ten years old. The problem is manifest in Gradius III, which is frustratingly unplayable.
Overall: Gradius Portable is perfect for shoot ‘em up fans. Five classics in one package is a deal that can’t be beat, even if Gradius III is a mess.
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