Gradius V
by Polly

Chances are if you've ever played a fly and shoot game, you've encountered at least one game in the Gradius series. And if that game happened to be either Gradius II or III, then you've probably extended your cursing vocabulary extensively during that time. Yes, the Gradius games will chew you up and spit you out. They'll laugh at you, have sex with your sister and your girlfriend right in front of you, then proceed to make you feel equally violated without the benefit of dinner or a reach-around. This was mostly due to the older Gradius games' checkpoint system. Bascially, if you died once and you were fully powered up, you'd never recover because the game's checkpoints were always set in really bad sections of the stage devoid of powerups at all. And if you diidn't know, a non-powered up Vic Viper has the firing consistency of a man (nyuk, nyuk) and moves like an intergalactic septic tank.

I'm happy to report that Gradius V hardly suffers from this problem. In fact, almost all the gripes from previous Gradius games have been addressed here. No longer are you doomed to a Game Over if you die once, because once your Vic Viper is destroyed, you'll be thrown back onto the screen with a fresh ship, and any Multiples you may have picked up during the previous life, will float slowly toward the left side of the screen giving you that snowball's chance in Hell of recovering that this series has lacked for so long. But purists need not worry. A wise decision by Konami has given the player the option to play with the new immediate respawn system OR to go old school using checkpoints once you die. You're in for a rough ride whichever you choose.

Gradius V is hard. Gradius V can be GOD DAMN hard at times. If you're not a fanatic that's die hard into these types of games like some people are, prepare to die... a lot. Gradius V balances the difficulty of the game out, making it so that the only part of your ship that is vulnerable to attack is a very miniscule dot located directly in the center of the sprite. So if you die, it's really your fault. This gives the game that oh-so-hard-to-find "tough but fair" difficulty which hardly exists in gaming anymore.

Initially you can select from four different weapon sets. The only real difference is how your multiples behave when you use the R-Trigger. Your options can tail behind you as you fly and you can lock them in place, you can have them rotate around your ship creating sort of a mini shield while you fire, or you can lock your ship's position and use the direction keys to whip your fire around the screen at any angle. The variety is a nice little breath of fresh air, but there are times in the game where it feels that the stages were built around weapon set two (the latter of the three sets mentioned above.) You can still easily beat the game with any of the available weapon sets, so it's not like they're entirely worthless. And once you finish the game you unlock even more weapons to use and a cool Weapon Edit mode to create your own little set of weapons to cruise around with.

Gradius V is GOD DAMN beautiful. Everything on the screen jumps out at you with extremely vibrant colors. Laser fire is absolutely gorgeous and whips around the screen in beautiful hues of light blue, backgrounds are very well done and always set the scene quite well, and the frame rate is freakin' rock solid. You'll rarely see the game drop below a slick 60 frames per second, unless it's a scripted end of the stage explosion. In my opinion these are the best damn graphics in a shooter ever. My only complaint is that while all other laser fire and your normal ship's fire are very vibrant and easy to see, normal enemy bullets are tiny little grey sparkling diamonds that don't stand out much and at times are extremely hard to see with all the action going on.

Gradius V is an old school shooter with a couple of cool new tricks thrown in. There's no fancy scoring system or insane bullet spray gameplay like most shooters utilize today, but it holds its own and manages to stick out. There's a lot of fun nostalgia with many old Gradius bosses making remixed appearances, but WHERE ARE THE FUCKING MOAI HEADS!? Though the game starts with a roar, it ends on a whimper. The ending and final stage are about the most disappointing I've ever experienced. It's just a damn good thing that the journey getting there is completely worth it.

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