Gradius V

The Vic Viper comes back for its fifth flight


The Lowdown

Pros: Designed with followers of the Gradius series in mind

Cons: Doesn't improve on a 10 year old formula

Purchase at Play-Asia

With the recent wave of space shooters, retro gaming freaks are getting their fill. The Gradius series, which originated on the days of the NES has gone through only at most minor changes from the original formula. Konami's flagship space shooting series is known for tight maneuvering, gun pod options, big bosses, and a weapons array. All of these appear in the latest Gradius game, Gradius V.

The weapon array system is one of the things that made the Gradius series shine. When enemies are shot down they occasionally drop a little power up. Collecting power ups moves you along the weapons array meter at the bottom of the screen. One power up allows you to use the first item, which is increased speed. Two power ups gives your ship missiles, if you choose to use them. You can stock up to six power ups to use the "?" mark power up, which gives you a force field. Konami allows you to select from four different weapon arrays, but they're not too much different from each other. Three of the power ups (speed up, laser and "?") are the same for all four combinations. The main difference with each array is how your options work.

Options are the other hallmark of the Gradius series. These glowing orange orbs follow your ship and fire shots when your ship shoots. There are four different option configurations. The first is the standard options that follow you around. The second array gives you the ability to change the direction your options are shooting by holding R1 and rotating the analog stick. The third option puts your options in a straight line, that looks like an air force configuration. The last option is to have the gun pods rotate when you hold the R1 button down.

For some reason the whole weapons array system in Gradius V just isn't what it used to be in Gradius III. Did Konami have to dumb the options down for some reason? Instead of getting an improvement Gradius V has gotten the exact opposite on a 64 bit system.

The Gradius series still requires the same tight maneuvering that it always demands players to have. Instead of pelting players with a screen of little glowing bullets Gradius requires you know how to fly your ship through narrow areas. Not just fly through narrow areas, but dodge and attack other ships in narrow areas. When you get to this point in the game you will realize how essential the speed up power up is. Without it, you'll go through unnecessary deaths because you just can't move your ship as fast as you want to. Big bosses are also around in Gradius V. You have ships that can take up to half a screen. Most of the ships also shoot a laser that remains on screen. This forces players to navigate the Vic Viper to avoid the laser and any other incoming shots. Because of this the boss battles can be challenging, more challenging than an entire stage.

Konami did add in a Stage Select mode that gives players a chance to replay areas of the game for practice. This is a good addition so players can actually master a certain area or stage without having to replay the entire game just to get there. If the practice mode doesn't help you can alter the difficult level and drop it to easy or very easy. On the other hand you can up the difficulty to hard or very hard.

Gradius V has a good set of visuals for a Playstation 2 game. Instead of using 2D sprites, Gradius V is in full 3D. You can notice this when the camera rotates during cut scenes. The Vic Viper certainly looks better than the recent Espgaluda, even if Espgaluda is more artistic. The other enemy ships, mainly the bosses, are as well designed as the Vic Viper. The background for the game have their moments. Konami has added rotating backgrounds and some other moving elements, which look nice. The sound and music in Gradius V fit the job. You get sounds of cutting lasers and lots of explosions. The music in the game is standard sci fi techno, it's nothing special.

Gradius V doesn't try to do anything to appeal to the general class of gamers out there. What it is, is a solid shooting game designed for Gradius players. Even though its more visually polished than some of the other shooters out there, the lack of innovation and the small number of seven stages makes Gradius V a must for fans of the series only.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 1

The majority of the menus and text are in English. When there are cut scenes there is English dialogue that is accompanied by Japanese subtitles.

US Bound?

Konami has announced Gradius V for a Fall release in North America.

Overall

The problem with Gradius V isn't that it's not a good shooter, it's that its designed only to appeal to people who like that sort of thing.