Gradius IV (Arcade) review
"I first picked up the Gradius III & IV compilation pack initially because I was into Gradius III at the time, since I was primarily playing it via MAME and the PSP Gradius Collections. When I received the PS2 ports, I played Gradius III with the slight hope of getting the 1 credit clear, but it's so cruel near the end of the game where you face the infamous cube rush that I just gave up, knowing that I would have to memorize an utterly frustrating point of an above average game. Eventually, I d..."
I first picked up the Gradius III & IV compilation pack initially because I was into Gradius III at the time, since I was primarily playing it via MAME and the PSP Gradius Collections. When I received the PS2 ports, I played Gradius III with the slight hope of getting the 1 credit clear, but it's so cruel near the end of the game where you face the infamous cube rush that I just gave up, knowing that I would have to memorize an utterly frustrating point of an above average game. Eventually, I decided to see what Gradius IV had to offer beyond the few attempts I made to play the game. And I am impressed to say that Gradius IV is the superior title.
Late to the arcades in '98, Gradius IV makes its appearance introducing some 3d elements to the Gradius style while maintaining a crisp, 2D sheen. Taking away 'edit' mode from Gradius III, IV goes to a selection of five weapon arrays. Most of the classic weapons are available and some new ones like armor piercing lasers and mine-type missiles that can be lobbed from your ship / options are available. The most notable difference is that the laser upgrades are not as powerful as in previous entries, and the regular shot is preferred for damage output. The other thing to note is that the mine-type missiles are very powerful and have a long vertical range when detonated. Great for quick killing bosses and for covering your back, this shooting array should be preferred for those serious in completing the game quickly.
Gradius IV is criticized by Gradius fans for uninspired level design, and for relying too much of its difficulty to environmental objects like swinging vine and tentacle appendages, dividing bubbles, moai head reborns that resurrect shortly after being destroyed and a lava stage where the lava flow dictates large rock structures bobbing up and downwards. While this is true of much of the design, I think the lack of originality is salvaged as the execution is near flawless and as it should be, fun. There are nine total stages, and the game covers most fronts of the Gradius atmospheres, leaving little out of the picture, but in fact there are a couple "original" stages being the Magma stage and the Cell stage in terms of design.
A bubble stage returns, of course, and at first undertaking feels frustrating because the bubbles divide in a manner that they are invincible for a second as they divide. Players have noticed that some of the floating ice cubes in this stage will move too quickly and attribute it to a bit of random luck when facing the stage. I only found this to be true in the initial phase of learning the stage, and while the cubes do move faster than normal during some runs, they can still be avoided with careful observation of the area as the cubes bounce off of tiny and large bubbles alike. Getting to know how the stage "bounces" is key to coming out of the stage with a clean victory, as well as sticking to the right side of the screen, ignoring bubbles that escape to the left side.
As I tackled this stage repeatedly, I learned that dying is not the worst thing to happen to you, and the stigma of getting "gradius syndrome" is lifted a little. Where "gradius syndrome" is the syndrome of dying and restarting from the last checkpoint with little hope to survive due to poor checkpoint positioning or lack of power-ups up to the boss. On the contrary, Gradius IV's rank system is very particular, and I noticed right away that if I died on the bubble core boss, I could potentially reach him again with 2 speedups and an option. Since the rank drops when you die and when you're not as powered up, the bubbles Bubble Core shoots out come slower and less frequently, making the boss battle respectfully manageable! Hooray!
In fact, one of Gradius IV's biggest improvements is in its checkpoint positions and ability to regain your power-ups and tackle the oncoming stages after dying. Nearly all of the bosses can be destroyed while naked, which is a sigh of relief after Gradius III. I've even recovered during the Moai stage, which is picked by Gradius Legend tviks (who has incredible records for Gradius titles across the board) as the hardest Moai stage in any Gradius game. I'm happy to point out this improvement because recovering is a great feeling to be had and it gives your hard earned extends some extra meaning throughout the game. The places are few where dying pits you with horrible odds of survival, but they still exist, so "Good Luck to You!"
Like in every Gradius title there are multiple loops, each becoming more difficult after each other. The cool thing about the loop is that the stage landscapes are rearranged and reworked with more enemies joining the fray. Lots of replay value with 8 difficulties to toy around with, too! For reference, I consider myself an above average shmup player and this entry took me roughly 30 hours to 1cc. I enjoyed the time I spent with it and never became very frustrated with the game.
Gradius IV is a stunning presentation all around. The music is taken in a Contemporary Jazz style and fits the mood of each stage well. The scrolling is incredibly smooth and everything about the visuals are as polished as they are vibrant and colorful. In the PS2 port of Gradius IV there is no arcade slowdown at all, and no option to turn it on. The PSP version of Gradius IV however does emulate it, making some of the stages more manageable. Stage Select can be unlocked with a game clear (credit feed or not) where all checkpoints are available to start off from, and a Boss Rush mode also becomes available. The Konami code is present and can only be used for the number of times you complete a stage, making its self incredibly handy in practicing certain stages through stage select, or credit feeding your way through the game.
Konami was nice and took away the painful memorization parts from Gradius III, making Gradius IV a more well rounded and tangible experience to play for. Gradius IV Fukkatsu (Fukkatsu means reborn, by the way!) is a valiant shooting title from Konami and should not be overlooked, especially by Gradius fans.
Community review by Aquas (January 20, 2009)
Aquas is an STG fanatic, score-chaser and arcade lover. He hosts the Shooting Game Weekly on Youtube, a show that goes in depth on various shmups with passionate fans of the genre. Favorite video game: EarthBound.
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