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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Gradius V (PS2)


By Michael Palisano

At long last, players have the chance to pilot the legendary Vic Viper in Konami's flawless Gradius V for the PS2. Updating the classic series with new twists while remaining true to the spirit, renowned developers Treasure have given the franchise a contemporary feel with new weapons and power-ups. From a visual standpoint, the game looks amazing with 3D rendered objects, gorgeous backgrounds and slick animation. Add in two-player simultaneous play and brilliant level design and you have a perfect update for a timeless gaming classic.

Classic 2D shooting games have become a rarified breed these days, with major releases coming rare. This is a real shame, since the genre offers simple thrills for gamers looking for some mindless fun. The recent release of R-Type Final gave gamers hope that a revival was on the way, and Konami's brilliant Gradius V is further evidence of this. While not created by Konami themselves, the talented developers at Treasure were given this task. Treasure needs no introduction to the hardcore gaming community, and their reputation should only be enhanced with this long-awaited title. Taking a classic series and adding new elements, while keeping the original games' essence intact is an excellent approach when creating a successful revival. Gradius V fits this mold perfectly, with new options features, simultaneous 2 player action, beautiful visuals and an excellent soundtrack that should please fans of the original series, while keeping things fresh for younger players. The game begins with a slick CGI introductory movie that brings you right into the Gradius world, and serves a tantalizing glimpse of what a true 3D Gradius game would be like. However, the developers have smartly decided to keep the series' traditional 2D gameplay and mixed in 3D rendered objects to give Gradius V a contemporary feel.

Gradius V's gameplay will be immediately familiar to veterans of the series, and like R-Type Final, is a pleasantly nostalgic trip through outer space. Once again, players control the Vic Viper against the hordes of alien forces and massive boss ships as they attempt to break the backs of a massive alien invasion force. As usual, players collect power-ups along the way which light up the power-bar at the bottom of the screen. When you've earned the right weapon, you enable it and can then use it with your ship. There are many of these in the standard game, and also some of the usual special blue power-ups which destroy any enemy ships onscreen instantaneously. Gradius V keeps the series traditional structure of Speed-Ups, missiles, double weapons, lasers, options and force fields, but there are a few twists in the weapons themselves. Before each game, players can select from one of four different weapons systems types, each offering a slightly different array of weapons. These weapons perform as they have in previous games for the most part, with one huge difference.

The options have been upgraded into new Multiple Options. These new power-ups look similar to the classic Options but now allow you to change the direction of your shots during the mission to make them go in any direction. This is a massive change that enhances Gradius V's strategy significantly, since you are no longer locked into a single direction. Multiples come in handy throughout the game, allowing you to target foes who may be located anywhere on the screen. Once you get the hang of this, you can aim your Multiples using circular motions to wipe out anything on the screen or focus your fire on a single point. It doesn't sound like a big deal on the surface, but it adds an entirely new dimension to the gameplay. This technique is particularly useful against the boss enemies, which are less predictable and more clever than in previous games. Additionally, Gradius V includes a new weapons edit menu where you can customize your ship with dozens of additional items, including some from earlier games in the series.

Once you've configured the Vic Viper it's off to battle the hordes of alien forces as you try and defend your homeworld from their onslaught. The gameplay is structured in a somewhat traditional manner, as you battle a series of standard enemies on your way to a boss confrontation at the end of each level. The standard enemies are a mixture of familiar invaders from previous games and some brand new foes for you to battle. While there are many traditional elements, Gradius V isn't entirely old-fashioned. The much faster pacing and clever design feels absolutely modern, with intense gameplay and more ammo thrown at the payer throughout. The levels aren't strictly horizontal either, and can come at you vertically or diagonally. The boss battles are noticeably more intense and difficult, with more than a few surprises in their attack patterns, so you need to be on guard at all times. Some levels also require you to defeat sub-bosses, and some of the end-level boss battles require you to destroy multiple ships as well. While there are only seven stages included in Gradius V, this is deceptive because the difficulty this time around is much tougher than previous games. This latest installment will challenge even Gradius veterans. You'll face more challenging patterns and more enemies onscreen making this installment the most intense and challenging to date. Fortunately, the game offers a few aids to help you along the way. In certain game modes, you can choose to have your multiples regenerate when you lose a ship, which helps a lot in the tougher sections. You can also earn more continues as they play the game and rack up time with the game, which is a much-appreciated bonus for players. Gradius V also includes multiple difficulty settings where you can use the easier levels to practice your maneuvers and get a feel for the controls. However, know that the game gets exponentially harder the higher you set this option. Once you have beaten a level, you also have the option of continuing from that section of the game, and don't have to start over on the first stage.

Adding another new dimension to the gameplay is Gradius V's new cooperative multiplayer mode where 2 players control separate ships at the same time. This is a really interesting addition, and makes the gameplay even more exciting and intense. Whichever mode you choose to play in, the game's smooth, silky controls remain faithful to the previous Gradius games. This definitely has the classic feel intact, with the familiar Vic Viper controlling as you remember it. Most of the commands remain faithful to the original game with the shooting, and power-up controls working exactly as they did in previous games. The new Multiple Options controls are seamlessly intergrated into the main game and work intuitively using the PS2's shift buttons. This new system works great lets you control their movement and direction easily.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Gradius V looks spectacular and sets new standards for the genre. The action comes alive with beautifully designed levels that mix 2D gameplay. Players will traverse beautiful starfields, go deep inside alien warships and face an array of brilliantly designed foes. While many of the levels and bosses will definitely give you a sense of déjà vu, they all look spectacular with new 3D models giving them a sleek new sheen. The beautiful backdrops and sophisticated modeling for onscreen objects gives the screen a depth and realism that's quite impressive. Excellent special weapons effects add further to the game's visual polish, with massive lasers and energy bursts that fill the screen with color and light. The game engine is impressive throughout, with an excellent frame rate and little slowdown. Using this hybrid approach gives Gradius V quite a visual polish that makes it stand out from the pack. The slick graphics are spectacular and are enhanced by the game's excellent orchestral soundtrack. Gradius V's soundtrack fits the frenetic action perfectly and gives the gameplay an epic feel without overpowering the game.

Players have been waiting for more than a year for Gradius V to come out, and we're happy to report that it's definitely been worth it. Treasure has done a brilliant job reviving the series by keeping the classic feel very much intact, while adding enough new twists and a modern graphical appearance that makes the game feel very fresh. It's a bit harder than some of the classic games in the series, throwing more enemies at you faster than before, but this added challenge is mitigated by the new Multiple Options, which is a brilliant addition to the series. Gradius V's co-operative play mode and weapons edit screens are excellent new features that extend the game's longevity. Gradius V's dazzling graphics, intense gameplay and classic feel make it an excellent revival that makes for an enormously satisfying gaming experience that will please veterans and new fans alike. Konami and Treasure deserve credit for taking the time to make Gradius V a solid addition to a legendary series.

Grade: A

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Gradius III & IV (PS2)
R-Type Final (PS2)
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