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In Memory
Sean Pettibone






Shooter fans will have a lot to celebrate this winter as Konami releases Gradius V, a brand new installment for the PS2. The return of this venerable series looks likely to please hard-core veteran players with its incredible visuals, inspired level designs and simultaneous play, GV should push the series forward while retaining its 2D roots. With new power-ups and gameplay mechanics underlying the traditional gameplay, this looks to be an exciting release. Join us for some old-school fun as the legendary Vic Viper flies again.

Gradius has always been one of those gold-standard series that defines its genre and remains one of the most beloved franchises in gaming. The first game was released in 1985 for the NES and was many American playersí introduction to the modern shooter with its extensive power-up system and infamous "Konami" code. As years went by, Konami released several outstanding sequels on a variety of systems ranging from Life Force on the NES, to the excellent Gradius III on the SNES. The series proved quite popular with gamers and spawned numerous imitators including Konamiís own Parodius series, which sadly saw only limited audience in the states as an import title. Sadly, aside from a compilation of the third and fourth Gradius titles released for the PS2 at the consoleís launch, the series has been essentially dormant for several years. Of course, the falloff in the interest in shooters probably had something to do with this, but it was disheartening to see so many formerly powerful franchises suffer neglect. This changed two years ago with the release of the excellent Gradius Galaxies for the GBA, and its warm reception from gamers and critics probably had something to do with the newest installment set for release this winter.

One of the most popular areas at this yearís E3 was Konamiís booth, and while bigger budget titles such as Metal Gear Solid 3 and the new Castlevania took the lionís share of attention, Gradius V was displayed to an appreciative audience of hardcore gamers. After playing the game extensively at the show, weíre happy to report that this looks to be a solid, engaging installment that is pure Gradius in spirit and play. Players worried that the series wonít stay true to its roots should be reassured that Konami went with Treasure in developing GV. In addition to pleasing gamers in recent years with brilliant shooters such as Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, Treasure also features many members who worked on the original Gradius titles, so any worries should be minimal. After playing the game at E3, our impression is that the traditional Gradius feel remains very much intact. Veteran players will find the same tight controls, trademark option power-up system and devious enemies theyíd expect, though now the game is wrapped up in a gorgeous new package. Gradius V will feature seven massive levels to shoot through, with a sophisticated level design that should make for an intense gaming experience.

The coolest thing about Gradius V is that it while stays true to the original gameplay, the 2D graphics have undergone a significant upgrade. While many long-running 2D franchises such as Rygar, Spy Hunter and Shinobi have attempted to bring their classic gameplay into 3D worlds, Gradius V takes a more traditional approach. There are some minor 3D elements that give objects such as rocks and asteroids depth, but the gameplay will exist largely on a 2D plane. GV will also take advantage of new techniques such as lens-flares, shadow lighting and vastly improved weapon designs plus other special effects to create the best looking title in the series to date. Players will glide through asteroids, gigantic fireballs and strange alien cities as they fight the alien hordes. The inventiveness of the designers when it comes to enemies has always been one of its main appeals, and the design of GV carries on that tradition. Players will face a wide variety of bosses and environments already look quite impressive by any standard. The detail of the Vic Viper was excellent and the silky-smooth animation and frame rate should propel the gamer into a beautiful, yet dangerous series of deep space missions through exotic alien environments.

While Gradius Vís gameplay is largely traditional, Konami is promising a few twists to keep things fresh. The biggest change from previous titles is the additional of co-operative play. Here two players can pilot two independent vipers and take on the enemies simultaneously. This should allow for some interesting gameplay possibilities with level and enemy design. Players will now be able to fight bosses together, and simultaneously pummel its weak spot. This is definitely a cool idea and should make for some really cool battles. Itís been a long time since the last battle, and the Vic Viper itself has undergone some changes as well. While thereís still going to be all the traditional weapons, such as the options, shields and missiles, new weapons such as a new option bomb and option stock. The option system itself has undergone a facelift and will allow players a greater dexterity in which weapons they use and how they use them. In all, Konami is promising no fewer than 12 unique upgradeable weapons in the new game, which should offer more than enough diversity and firepower to keep players happy. Gradius Vís additions should build on the seriesí proven formula without diminishing the solid gameplay mechanics that have stood the test of time for nearly two decades.

By staying true to its 2D roots while adding enough new elements to keep things fresh, it looks like Konami has a definite winner on its hands with Gradius V. The improved visuals look amazing with excellent enemy designs, animation and special effects should hook veteran players. Konami should please fans of the series by keeping traditional Option power-up interface and many classic weapons and adding new ones onto the existing mechanics. The addition of co-operative play and an improved AI system can only make this even better. This is definitely high on The Laserís most wanted list and the only bad thing we can think of to say about Gradius V is waiting until the winter for the game to come out domestically seems tortuous.

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