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Gradius V (PlayStation 2) artwork

Gradius V (PlayStation 2) review

"I've stated that I like playing the first Gradius because of its fine balance, but Gradius V is the first time in the main series where I've genuinely enjoyed playing the whole thing, from start to finish."

For a series that prides itself on giving you tons of options when it comes to approaching each one of its games, I often find it ironic the Gradius franchise has been so stubborn and strict. Every title that's followed the original has made their interesting contributions, but are always overshadowed, thanks to a bit of tampering that made these games annoying in their own ways. For the longest time, I've wanted to love this series, because I find its various ship and landscape designs fascinating, but try as I might, I just couldn't. If only, if only, the developers would've made some reasonable modifications, at least in the home ports of the arcade titles, I might have enjoyed them.

Well, it took nearly two decades, but this was finally achieved with the 2004 release of Gradius V.

Like previous Gradius titles, it's amazing how one or two simple changes can drastically alter a game's flow. Gradius V does the same, except in the opposite direction. Instead of making the gameplay frustratingly hard, its adjustments have actually made it easier, with the most noticeable example being able to respawn on the spot. This significantly switches the tone, as you're less likely to scream bloody murder when respawning at an awkward checkpoint. The second biggest change is the forgivable hit box on your super spatial-temporal fighter, er, the Vic Viper. While I've never had a huge problem with the hit detection in past games, there was something... off about it. Gradius V relieves some stress by making a small hit box, allowing bullets and other such objects to slip through sections of your pointy ship that would normally cause death.

But hold on a sec! These things make the game more flexible, yes, but Gradius V is still a challenging title, ensuring you won't finish it in one or two sittings. You'll find yourself in dire circumstances many times with your Vic Viper navigating around giant brains in a corridor, eradicating a stream of slugs that plug up the only safe spot in an organic cave that shifts its bumps and curves, and end up going through more than one boss gauntlet this time! Certain trademark moments make their return, as well, but they don't nearly dominate the game like Gradius IV did. There's one stage dedicated entirely on dodging an onslaught of debris in what appears to be a space port caught in an asteroid field? I think? It's a hectic location that puts the hellish bubble stage from Gradius III to shame. The good news is that it's not as irritating as that stage, even towards the end when space rocks literally blanket the screen, and it's thanks to the hit detection. Even so, this doesn't reduce difficulty, as it's still an intense level!

Helping you through this incarnation of the Bacterian invasion are your array of power-up options, again a set of four to choose from before each play. The development team has kept it simple this time, only allowing the basic power-ups to shine, excluding the more glamorous and absurd ones from previous titles. There has been an unique change, however, and it has to do with each set-up having a variation of the Multiple option, those yellow orbs that provide additional firepower. I'm sure most newcomers will gravitate towards the second set-up's Multiple, since it gives you complete control over which direction and angle you can shoot them. Though, if you're not afraid to experiment, you'll find the other Multiple options to be useful, as well. The Rotate Multiple, for example, is able to have the glowly things circle the Vic Viper as they fire off. In many ways, this option almost acts as a second shield. Another Multiple, the Freeze one, is as its name implies, freezing the orbs in place while your ship moves around. Helpful for when you want to shoot in a specific area and need to be elsewhere... or just afraid to get hit.

I've stated that I like playing the first Gradius because of its fine balance, but Gradius V is the first time in the main series where I've genuinely enjoyed playing the whole thing, from start to finish. The modifications made to the title has transformed it into such an accessible product, without betraying the challenging nature of the series. The only real difference is now everyone can play and realistically complete it. Hardcore gamers need not fret, as there's also the inclusion to turn back on the old-school checkpoint system. So, you see, Gradius V has everything for everyone, making it, in essence, the people's Gradius.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 01, 2011)

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fleinn posted August 01, 2011:

The level of expertise some of you have when it comes to games like this both frightens and intrigues me a whole bunch :D the part about the powerups best. But, imo, if you dropped the "typical" part, or calling it "typical" - then that would stand on it's own as a copletely interesting sentence. You would probably read it and know it's similar to other games. You kind of say that already. But it's not until you call it "typical" that the interest drops a bit..
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pickhut posted August 01, 2011:

Ah, I think I understand what you mean. I guess I'll take that out. Thanks for reading, though, I dunno if I would consider myself a shoot-em-up expert. Just like playing these types of games sometimes.
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Linkamoto posted August 01, 2011:

Nice review, pickhut. I'm gonna be honest and admit I've never played a Gradius game, but you sure make this game sound fun. Worse yet, I love top down shooters. What am I doing!? Very simple, yet complex review that really gave me an idea of what the game had to offer.
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pickhut posted August 01, 2011:

You meant horizontal shooters, right? >___>

Regardless, thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed it.
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Linkamoto posted August 01, 2011:

Of course that's what I meant ;)

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