You’ll do a lot more than witness the evolution of the Gradius series with Gradius Collection, you’ll experience it first-hand. Prepare for blastoff. by Colin Thames
June 15, 2006 – Gradius was originally released back in ‘85. It’s considered the grandfather of all side-scrolling, space shooters. No self-respecting arcade, pizza parlor or college-town bar would be without at least a tabletop version of this popular videogame. Now you can have five, faithfully ported versions from the original Gradius series including Gradius II, Gradius III, Gradius IV and Gradius Gaiden –some of which were never released in North America. The recent Gradius V is not included nor is the two-player version, Life Force. While that may be a bummer for some fans, it serves to make this collection more cohesive. Each game takes the series further, both in challenge and in presentation as technology evolved through the decades. It may seem like there’s a lack of variety, at least from the standpoint of the genre that would seemingly benefit from some diversions such as cutting edge 3D graphics and a co-op mode, but in all actuality the variation is all in the details.
The gameplay is anything but subtle. While piloting your heavily armed spacecraft, the Vic Viper, you blast swarms of enemy craft into smithereens. On the surface, that may seem like all there is to the gameplay but fans know that in order to accomplish such a task requires plenty of mental and physical engagement. One must have great hand/eye coordination, memory, concentration and the ability to think strategically. While the games here are presented virtually identically to their arcade counterparts, some new features have been added to make them more palatable, or accessible, to those that were raised on infinite lives, checkpoints and saves.
If there’s two things that we can all agree on concerning the Gradius series, is that these games were both fun and difficult. Balancing the level of difficulty while still trying to make them fun is an art, but often approached as a science. By the second Gradius game a chasm was formed separating the casual arcade player from the hardcore addict that spend countless hours, and quarters, learning how to beat the game. He or she was able to figure out the patterns and develop their shooting skills in the process. Being forced to start the game over after losing all your lives was definitely the driving force to gameplay perfection. Many players unwittingly assimilated the game into their memory banks from sheer repetition. Eventually these hardcore players demanded more of a challenge and so Gradius III was created to appease those fanatics and have them drop more quarters. While this may have seemed like a good idea, it ultimately alienated those casual gamers that would drop a few quarters in all kinds of different games in the arcade, as opposed to trying to master one or two specifically. What this meant was that hardcores would end up taking over these machines and playing much longer on less money which resulted in less revenue for the businesses that owed or rented these machines. It also turned off a lot of potential fans from the Gradius series that didn’t see this increased difficulty as fun – and we’re talking millions of them.
Fortunately, Gradius Collection features a variety of options that will make all of the game accessible for any style of player. Purists will note that they can choose the original version of any game in this collection, so let them not bitch. If I were involved in the development or marketing of this game I would definitely encourage these new features. “Tuned” is a feature that reformats the playfield to fit the elongated PSP screen. This slight expansion gives you a little more breathing room. The Vic Viper has more space in which to conduct maneuvers both evasive and aggressive. For those that need more help you can tone down the difficulty, give yourself more lives and reduce the point value so that you can be awarded extra lives at a lower score.
Power-ups are literally a way of life in Gradius. They will give you extra firepower and provide armor for your spacecraft. Without the armor, one hit from an enemy craft or contact with anything on the planet’s surface will result in your ultimate destruction. Armor will essentially give you one extra life in that you will only lose your armor should you get shot or hit something. But after that, you’re totally vulnerable. If you do manage to get destroyed and you have at least one life left, you’ll start over with no power-ups. If you lose all of your lives, you’ll have to start the entire game over from scratch. You can imagine the tension of being three-quarters of the way through the game with only one life left and a boss to face. Purists will tell you that that’s the only way to play these games. And that may be true to some extent but these new features will at least allow you to acquire enough skill, and maintain your interest, in such a way as to get you to the point of being capable of attempting to play these games on their original difficulty setting.
Gamers on the go will appreciate the pause feature which lets you put the game on hold and pick up where you left off at your convenience. Anything less than this addition, especially on a handheld system, would be inexcusable. There is also an automated power-up selection feature that chooses the appropriate power-up for each situation. This frees you up to concentrate on your shooting by not having to avert your gaze. The fact that it makes the best decision for you makes this a no-brainer but you are free to override this feature if you prefer to use alternative power-ups for different reasons. You also don’t have to mash the button down for rapid-fire shots. Just press the triangle button and you’ll discharge a steady stream of deadly destruction from your Vic Viper.
Gradius 4 adds three new ships to the mix so that you can try something different other than Old Faithful. The different ships have different capabilities, some are faster while others are less agile but capable of more firepower and taking on damage. It’s nice to have this kind of variety and with the much improved graphical quality, the gameplay is more exciting than ever. Gaiden is the final game in this collection and it’s arguably the best. At least in terms of variety, graphics and control.
All of the game looks identical to their arcade counterparts. The Vic is as responsive as even, and even the sound effect and music has been lovingly preserved and presented in its original 16-bit format. There are a few extras such as cutscenes from some of the later versions as well as some information on each game, but it really doesn’t go into much detail.
Gradius Collection is a definite must for any shooter fan. It can be played for months or just a few hours depending on your attention span and how far you want to get in each game. Those looking for fun and a challenge will not be disappointed.
- 5 complete Gradius games in one exciting package
- Includes the long awaited Gradius Gaiden, never before released
in the US
- Listen to music and watch videos in the Gallery Mode
- Multiple screen displays including the original arcade orientation and widescreen PSP mode
By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer