2D space shooters were like second nature to me back when I was a kid, so naturally, games like Life Force and Gradius have special places in my heart. They were pure fun, without the need for complex back-stories, or any sort of rationalization- you were there to kill things; lots of things. Thankfully, the series has stood the test of time, becoming Konami's longest running shooting franchise, spawning several sequels of the original. However, some of the sequels in the Gradius franchise have been far less than stellar, so it is really nice to see that Gradius V is shaping up as an excellent game. Debuting at this year's Electronic Entertainment Exposition, Gradius V was sporting next-gen 2D graphics and all new level design.
Once again, the Vic Viper is back in action as players take the super fighter through seven different stages of increasing difficulty to destroy the Bacterian Core. Along the way, players can pick up any of twelve different upgrades for the Viper. Some of these are oldies (but goodies) like the laser, though there are some new additions, such as revamped items like the Option Bomb and Option Stock, which Konami promises will heighten the power of the Vic Viper, and the intensity of the gameplay.
Visually, V is amazing. With the return of the 2D side scrolling action, the backgrounds are seriously good looking, and the visual effects, such as the several explosions that take place on screen, often simultaneously, are beautiful. The Vic Viper is looking sharper than ever, as well. One of the most important things in a shooter is fluidity; slow-down is especially unacceptable in this genre. However, Gradius V is smoother than warm butter, and promises to deliver dozens of on screen explosions, enemies and level design, all without the slightest hiccup.
The gameplay is classic Gradius, with a return to the simplistic yet challenging formula that made the original so much fun. You can tackle the missions alone, if you're feeling froggy, or team up with a friend and together blast your way through the levels, blowing up asteroids, knocking the crap out of enemy forces and beating the snot out of boss enemies.
In classic Gradius fashion, you'll certainly die a lot, and use several continues. Gradius has never been a game for the weak willed. However, the fun factor should still be as undeniable as ever. Gradius V is a lot like the original in that it delivers fun you can't quantify or qualify, but wouldn't care to anyway because you'd rather just play it.
With so many big budget, over the top Hollywood style games releasing each year, it's always nice to see a developer go back to their roots, and deliver classic gameplay that older gamers really want. Such is exactly what Konami has done with their latest space shooter. Gradius V is nearing the completion of the development cycle and is currently scheduled for a fall/winter 2003 release, alongside many of Konami's other major holiday hits like Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.
Look for more information on Gradius V as it becomes available.
9/16/2003 Ryan Hartmann