• Gradius V Review - Sony PS2

    There is nothing more satisfying than the combination of stylised cool and adrenal, mesmerically deep gameplay, and Treasure are past masters in this art of fusion as you will read in this Gradius V review. So adept that Konami, creators of the Gradius IP, handed this luscious franchise over to them for the next stage in the series’ evolution. The creators of Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and the hypnotically gorgeous Ikaruga, would like to welcome you to the laser show.

    Gradius, for those not familiar, is a side-scrolling shooter that is credited with inventing the genre as it is recognised today. A major influence on all the greats – including R-Type – the games see you pilot the combat ship Vic Viper into combat against hordes of technological and biological enemies. Seething and swarming all over the screen and filling the tight levels with their often compact and always deadly forms, these entities spew bullets in arcing patterns that mean manoeuvring is as vital to progress as vaporising the foe.

    Aiding you in this is the Viper’s compliment of weapons. Similar to its offspring, Gradius 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 armaments 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, comprised of speed up, missiles, lasers, ‘Options’ (glowing balls that surround the Vic Viper and mimic your fire) and a ‘?’, which represents a force field.

    There are four different configurations of armament, selectable from the start, which alter slightly the way your weapons operate. Type 1, for example, allows you to lock the ‘Options’ in a single position with the press of a button, whereas Type 4 with the same button sees the option whirling around your ship in a protective circle.Once any selection 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.

    Such a deep system of play enthrals as much as the geared, grinding of the stages that thrust you towards the vicious bosses that glower in the recesses of each level. Treasure have crafted a game engine as technically precise as it is beautiful – the Vic Viper has a tiny hit box, allowing the pilot to careen around the claustrophobic stages with startling grace, evading weapons fire and burying indestructible parts of the ship in walls, protecting the core. The idea of ‘the core’ is central to Gradius: before a boss fight, you are barked at to “Destroy the core!” – normally a blue, glowing mass of energy hidden behind the boss’s armour plating. Locating the weak spot isn’t the problem – managing to hit it, however, is. The bosses use both their own weaponry, their impenetrable shielding and the environment to destroy you. The level 5 boss, for example appears in numerous forms, each one with a greater number of cores to ravage with your guns, whilst also boxing you in or closing you out, depending on its configuration. This lends a puzzle element to the game that is most welcome – you need to memorise the layout of the ship and the attack patterns in order to devise an attack plan.

    Treasure showed, in the form of Ikaruga, that you could create a sumptuous aesthetic whilst retaining the visceral thrill of destruction. Gradius V is no exception: vermilion, chrome and neon-blue cascade in cyclical patterns; at the point of explosion there’s an ecstatic pop of combustion; the impervious fabric of the enemy glistens with incendiary sparks as your lasers impact on their hulls. Each level is masterfully rendered, in high resolution (and bearing a kissing-cousin similarity to Ikaruga in terms of design and colour scheme), full of pulsing alien innards, meteorite-infested battle stations and acidic-green processing plants keen to annihilate you. It is, undoubtedly, the best-looking side-scrolling shooter ever made.

    As with all titles in the Gradius series, number five is severely difficult. On Normal setting, the game is far harder than the (notoriously tough) original, and completing on one credit is a stern challenge. Thankfully, this version has an option called Reflex, whereby 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. You can, if you like, remove this option in the config...but that would be foolish, wouldn’t it? Extra credits are earned for each hour of game-time, lessening the burden slightly, and it’s also worth mentioning that a well-implemented two-player co-operative mode is available, and that the traditional weapon edit mode (where you hand-pick you power-up selections) is unlockable.

    Treasure have engineered an awe-inspiring entrant to the Gradius franchise that succeeds on almost every level. There are only two minor, peripheral weaknesses: some Gradius enemy types are missing from the lineup: although the Salamanders (huge red planets with rotating eyes) return, the trademark Easter Island monoliths are bafflingly absent, as are the flame- and sand-dragons. Secondly, the game does not innovate as Ikaruga did, by invigorating the genre with unique touches. Although G-five could not, conceivably, be more polished - slowdown is practically non-existent, except where deliberately added for effect - it remains part of the canon rather than becoming an evolutionary offshoot.

    Those caveats aside, Gradius V competes alongside the monumental R-Type Delta as the greatest shooter of its type, eclipsing even the previous Gradius titles as the best in the series. Balanced, tuned and counter-weighted to within a pixel’s distance of perfection, Treasure have masterminded a game both technically adept and visually astonishing. Revel in this paean to the art of destruction.

    Review by Stuart Peake
    Score: 9/10
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. nakamura's Avatar
      nakamura -
      Bang on review. I don't play a lot of shooters but thought this was amazing.
    1. Golgo's Avatar
      Golgo -
      Still get this and R-type Final off the shelf for a blast now and then. True classics.
    1. Fader209's Avatar
      Fader209 -
      I was an R-Type man until I played this game (was my first Gradius...I was missing out) and then this became THE shoot-em-up for me.
      Great review that echoes how I also feel I find it interesting to compare this with R-Type Final which was out around the same time and was plagued by slow down - makes you appreciate the work done here.
    1. Golgo's Avatar
      Golgo -
      I think R-type Final is definitely the messier game, feels a bit crazy and chucked together compared to the super-precise grad v, but maybe more charming for that reason.
    1. Fader209's Avatar
      Fader209 -
      I did like the number of ships they crammed in there, was insane. And how different they were with the charge shot.
      There was one particular level though where it was stuttering so bad with slow down that was such a big let down after I had been looking forward to it.
    1. Ico's Avatar
      Ico -
      Gaiden remains the pinnacle of the series in my eyes, but V is just as awesome.
      G.Rev deserves some credit for their assistance on the game too!
    1. MisterBubbles's Avatar
      MisterBubbles -
      Totally LOVE the game, pity its one of the hardest games on the planet EVER, and im so bad at shoot em ups.
    1. JazzFunk's Avatar
      JazzFunk -
      Love how just mentioning an old review of this game gets people talking about it again. I %%NEED%% to play through this again, what a ruddy good game this is!!!!!
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      I thought the graphics in this were some of the best to grace the PS2. I often died just looking at some awesome bit of background.
    1. Mr Ono's Avatar
      Mr Ono -
      Screw this. I have the week off work and going to play this on Pcsx. Love this game. Up there at the pinnacle of best shmups ever.
    1. moonwhistle's Avatar
      moonwhistle -
      I thought it was stunning, treasure finally make a pick up and play trad shooter that's actually fun. My only gripes are the levels being too long, the bull**** unskippable sequence in level 2 and the horrible regrowing wall of flesh which makes me throw my controller across the room.
    1. Fader209's Avatar
      Fader209 -
      Quote Originally Posted by moonwhistle View Post
      I thought it was stunning, treasure finally make a pick up and play trad shooter that's actually fun. My only gripes are the levels being too long, the bull**** unskippable sequence in level 2 and the horrible regrowing wall of flesh which makes me throw my controller across the room.
      Made me laugh as those two gripes also annoy me Once upon a time I could get through the "wall of hate" with only losing a life or two using some trick of trailing a multiple behind the ship and firing in short bursts. Tried it the other week and failed miserably.
    1. S_rank's Avatar
      S_rank -
      The wall of flesh can be anoying i think the best bet is to trail the option behind you should just tap the shot button and only really take out what just in front of you and move very slowly

      Is one of my favorite shooters which is suprising since i normally only like games with a strong scroing hook i still fire this up every couple of months still havent one credited it the furthest i have got is the near the end of stage 6 before the bosses .
    1. dataDave's Avatar
      dataDave -
      I remember the wall of flesh being a bastard until working it out, then you can just switch off and chill during it.

      Another story entirely is the meteor field (stage 5) boss on loop 2. That's where I got to before giving up.
    1. QualityChimp's Avatar
      QualityChimp -
      Is the only way to play this by getting it off eBay?
    1. phillai's Avatar
      phillai -
      Thank you for giving this game the justice it really deserves. I love this game to bits and it looks even nicer 4x scale on PCSX2!!
    1. Mr Ono's Avatar
      Mr Ono -
      Quote Originally Posted by QualityChimp View Post
      Is the only way to play this by getting it off eBay?
      Buster Broon has the PAL version for sale in his big sell off.
    1. S_rank's Avatar
      S_rank -
      Quote Originally Posted by dataDave View Post
      I remember the wall of flesh being a bastard until working it out, then you can just switch off and chill during it.

      Another story entirely is the meteor field (stage 5) boss on loop 2. That's where I got to before giving up.
      Stage 5 is something that i half struggle with on the first loop if i dont get get and get to the bit where to boss finsh firing his laser i will destroy it but if i get hit and lose my power up im going to lose a few lives if i have them. I have to be well caffinated to do well on that boss.
    1. Hikaru007's Avatar
      Hikaru007 -
      I just have this game, i just broutht by 10 bucks in one my city game store, maybe game its hard :P but playing with my brother or friends its little easier...even old trusted KONAMI code works.
    1. k0pp0's Avatar
      k0pp0 -
      Just a wicked game.

      My dog chewed through my joypad cable when playing it. TRUFAX!