Gradius Collection (PSP) review
"When the ship begins, it fires small pellets in a straight path. These are soon supplemented with peripheral shots, lasers and shields that give you a better chance against whatever the alien empire you’re battling happens to throw your way. Soon, your painfully slow ship will move more efficiently—this finally gives you a chance against all your adversaries as they dart so lithely about the screen—and you’ll wonder why you ever found the game so overwhelming."
Gradius is a side-scrolling shooter series made famous because of its “option” gimmick. The system works as follows: you start out with a ship that couldn’t hurt a flea and you defeat swarms of enemies. Those poor souls leave behind glowing icons that you can then use to turn your ship into something slightly more powerful. By memorizing enemy patterns and surviving well into a given stage, the true Gradius fanatic can soon evolve into a force that will have even mosquitoes trembling.
Unfortunately, you’re not battling mosquitoes. You’re battling aliens.
After looking at your selection of weapons in any Gradius game, you might be excused for mistaking the threat for something less menacing. When the ship begins, it fires small pellets in a straight path. These are soon supplemented with peripheral shots, lasers and shields that give you a better chance against whatever the alien empire you’re battling happens to throw your way. Soon, your painfully slow ship will move more efficiently—this finally gives you a chance against all your adversaries as they dart so lithely about the screen—and you’ll wonder why you ever found the game so overwhelming. Then someone sneaks in a lucky shot and you remember.
You remember because just like that, everything you gained drops away and you’re back to the miniature elephant you remember so well from your first moments with the game. Suddenly, each shot is a hazard all over again, not only because you’ll have a harder time moving out of the way, but because you’ve progressed to a point in the game where enemy projectiles are more frequent and you’re much less capable of stopping your opponents before they can pepper the screen with their bullets.
Gradius Collection is a PSP game the collects all of this frustration and throws it onto a single UMD disc along with sound test modes and video. There are five titles here, which in theory amount to a lot of gameplay for your $30. However, the differences between each game aren’t particularly significant. That’s true even of Gradius Gaiden, the only entry on the compilation that Americans likely haven’t played before. At the end of the day, it’s all just a lot of blasting, dodging and memorization.
But wait, what’s so bad about that? If you can get past the idea of turning into a puny weakling every time you take a shot, nothing. Gradius Collection contains five games because enough people love the franchise to keep it relevant.
Fly through the galaxy, dodging lions created from the sandy planet. Weave between them as they zig-zag through a narrow corridor. Dodge the monsters creeping along the surface the whole time. That’s Gradius III. Or maybe you prefer the original, where you suddenly find yourself flying through debris that comes to life as strange mouths spew energy waves capable of crushing your ship in an instant. Then again, you might be all about Gradius Gaiden, which begins with you flying over the ice-covered planet, stripping frosty blades from whirling stars before facing a massive worm with armor that blocks all of your shots. . . until you hit its weak point.
The games remain every bit as much fun as you remember, and they haven’t grown any less demanding. The PSP is perfectly suited to support horizontal shooters such as this one, so you can almost always see everything you need as the levels scroll this way and that (mostly left to right). The detail is sharp, too, and the slowdown you may recall from the 16-bit era is no longer smacking you in the face.
Each game also has adjustable options. You can choose how closely the screen zooms and what the difficulty level is. You can also decide when extra credits are awarded, how many continues are available and how many ships wait in reserve. None of these tweaks will make the game too easy, thanks to the “start from scratch every time you take a hit” nature of the Gradius series. If you can complete any of the titles, consider yourself a shooter wizard.
That brings up an important point, and it’s the thought you should part with. No matter what skill you have with shooters, Gradius Collection will challenge you. With that said, it won’t convert you if you weren’t a fan already. Enemy patterns still seem cheap at times and it’s far too exasperating when you make it all the way to a boss, take a hit and have to resume with a useless ship. The simple truth is that if you’re okay with the inherent flaws that have always been a part of the franchise, this collection will make you happy all over again. If you always found the games a bit irritating, well, nothing much has changed. Would twitch gamers really want it any other way?
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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 13, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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