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Gradius III & IV (PlayStation 2) artwork

Gradius III & IV (PlayStation 2) review


"You poor bastards."



You poor bastards.

When Gradius III & IV was released as a close launch title for the PlayStation 2, you thought the arcade version of Gradius III was going to be similar to the SNES port. I mean, let's be honest, for the longest time, that particular version was the only exposure most players had with the game. Then this little ol' compilation comes along and plays with your nostalgic mind. You buy it, you play it, you get extremely frustrated, and then you become confused, almost like the whole ordeal was a bad dream. That's okay, all of us had that experience... at least the sane ones. Every time I return to this version of Gradius III, I'm in denial. I keep thinking it's me that's sucking, give it another go, and it just always ends the same: in heartbreak. Well, it actually ends with me cursing at my TV, but same difference.

Gradius III continues a tradition that started with Gradius II, and by that I mean tampering with a good thing. For some reason, the development team figured this sequel needed to be much harder than its predecessors in order to be a better product. Except, instead of allowing you to enjoy a bit of the game before screwing you, like Gradius II did, Gradius III starts this almost immediately. And it does so with bubbles. Let that sink in. The developers could've done this with a battalion of ships or a cluster of bullets, but they decided to haunt you with... bubbles.

In the second stage, big and small bubbles bounce off one another, take up at least 80/90% of the gaming field, and they never, ever let down. A beefy Vic Viper can't even completely wipe them off the screen, only reducing them slightly. Their numbers are overwhelming, and it doesn't help that the game makes it even more grueling by throwing in turrets, as well as have ships pop up from behind and stalk your ship in its limited space. Then they crank up the difficulty further by having a formation of bubble ships, from two different sections, track the unfortunate Vic Viper. What's different about these? You gotta hit them twice: first time to burst the bubble shield, and a second time to hit the ship. This is all while there are still bubbles floating around. With turrets. Making it through this mess is as painful as it sounds... and it's only the second stage!

Not stopping there, another questionable decision made was the absence of a continue option: lose all your lives and see that wonderful title screen. This is absolutely insane considering how crazy the second stage is, not to mention the eight additional stages that come right after. I probably would've lost all my damn hair trying to complete Gradius III in an arcade! Thankfully, Gradius III & IV has included a stage select option for this game, which grants access to checkpoints already crossed. Even with this merciful addition, though, it's still such a pain in the butt to finish. Once again, like its predecessor, there's a heavy emphasis on making it through all levels with an upgraded Vic Viper, sadly. When materializing at certain checkpoints, you're often greeted by a legion of bullets and ships cluttering the field, all which your weak and slow ship has a seriously hard time fending off.

However, all this suffering in the arcade version has given me newfound respect for the SNES port, which toned down the brutal difficulty curve considerably. It's still challenging, but not in a frustrating manner. Shoot, you can even make it past the bubble stage in one shot! It harkens back to Gradius 1's style of challenge, which gave players a fair shot in its sea of chaos. It makes me wish there would've been an option to switch to the SNES version on this disc. Sure, there's levels removed and segments cut out, but it's much more enjoyable to play; it's one of those instances where less is more.

I guess it comes as no surprise that Gradius IV, obviously making up the second half of this disc, was released nine years after the third game. Konami probably figured that's how long it would take to master and complete Gradius III. Here's the good news: IV isn't as absurd as its immediate predecessor, meaning, with practice, you can get through at least three or four stages before taking a hit. However, for those expecting a fresh Gradius title are going to be disappointed, because this game is basically a rehash. I can say the same for the last two games remixing some stages from the first Gradius, sure, but with IV, the game as a whole is nearly just a remix. The first stage is the sun level from Gradius II, except there's now some weird liquid effect, the third stage is an iceberg/bubble juggling act, minus the extreme frustration, there's a reworked high-speed fortress level, and, of course, you have your billionth cave stage. Admittedly, I found the segment where you have to trek through a cave ocean of flames to be quite exciting, since both the top and bottom halves kept waving around, making it tough to dodge the moving rock formations that float by on the fire.

After the misery that Gradius III unleashed, though, I guess we should be grateful that IV doesn't want to torture us so badly and take what we can get. However, it's far from easy, and some past nuisances creep into this title. Specific checkpoints are still irritating as ever with a weak ship, but manageable thanks to the return of a continue system. Another gripe I have is with the game's Moai stage... it's the hardest Moai stage so far! The Moai heads are their most ruthless in IV, rapidly dispensing a stream of projectiles whenever they can, at all angles possible. What makes this version especially nasty is that you can get destroyed by debris from blown heads. It can get frustrating navigating through these space islands, dodging projectiles and blowing up statues like a maniac, only to be done in by some rubble.

Even then, IV is a serviceable sequel, patching up wounds in the series created by Gradius III. Still, I cannot recommend this compilation pack in good faith just because it has one playable title. As a whole package, Gradius III & IV sucks. Just think about it for a second: you have one incredibly hard game you likely won't finish, sucking any enthusiasm from your body in the process, paired with a game that's nothing but a rehash with catchy music and decent boss fights. Well... okay, that one Core boss with bubbles was awesome in a funny way. Only the hardest of the hardcore would get any semblance of joy from this release. For everyone else thinking of trying this out, I strongly suggest skipping this disc unless you can find it super cheap, and even with that, I'd advise approaching with caution; long exposures may cause symptoms of rage, upset stomach, inability to keep foul mouth shut, and reoccurring dreams of being stalked by giant bubbles.

Rating: 4/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (July 24, 2011)

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honestgamer posted July 24, 2011:

I wasn't going to pick at your grammar here, but then I got through your whole review and realized that it was tremendously polished with only the one real mistake. Here's that mistake:

"However, for those expecting a fresh Gradius title is going to be disappointed, because this game is basically a rehash."

That should be: "However, those expecting a fresh Gradius title are going to be disappointed, because this game is basically a rehash."

Anyway, this was a great read and I felt that you expressed your frustrations with the compilation in a clear, convincing manner. I've always wanted to love the Gradius series, but it's always been a franchise that forced me to fight for any enjoyment I got from it (aside from Gradius V, which I felt did a lot of things right). It's good to see that I'm not alone in preferring the SNES version, too!
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pickhut posted July 24, 2011:

Oh, thanks for pointing that error out, I didn't realize I did that! And yeah, I've also wanted to love the Gradius series, but the difficulty in certain games always drove me away. I just felt like going through some of the games in the series because I'm interested in the upcoming release of Otomedius Excellent, and I just wanted a sense of what I might be getting into with that title. Thought about playing some of the Parodius titles, too, but I'm sticking with the main titles for now.

And thanks for reading the review, glad you liked it.

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