As Gradius just turned 30 years old, a well-timed port recently arrived for PlayStation 4. Shoot 'em ups have grown a lot over the years, but does one of their most notable ancestors still hold up? Hang on to your quarters for now and read on.
After re-playing Gradius, it's become clear to me that the series hasn't changed much from the beginning. Of course, more enemy types and complexities have been introduced over time, but the general feel of the series has remained steadfast throughout. From the unique power-up meter to the super-tight controls, Gradius has always delivered simple yet challenging gameplay since day one. Therefore, you know that this original arcade iteration is sure to satisfy your craving for retro shoot 'em up action. As you battle countless enemies, seamlessly soar your way through the campaign, and watch your score go well over 57,300 points, you'll undoubtedly agree that Gradius is a classic for a reason.
Gradius is far from a flashy game but its simplistic visuals definitely help you focus on the action. Whether a horde of enemies swoops in or a couple sneakily creep up behind you, they're always easy to spot and take care of. One feature that I find incredibly satisfying is that the entire campaign progresses without being sectioned into stages as most games released around this time were prone to do. It makes the whole game feel like a much more cohesive experience without having to stop every few minutes just to look at some text that announces the stage that you've made it to. This is further emphasized through the fantastically epic soundtrack which subtly fades in and out upon reaching certain points in the journey. The only disappointing part of the presentation is the high-pitched and repetitive sound effects which will easily get on your nerves.
This port of Gradius contains three regional variations of the classic arcade game. Although they don't vary much, hardcore retro enthusiasts will find it interesting to see the differences between the Japanese, North American, and European versions. The latter two versions were renamed Nemesis and boast faster processing speed with the North American one being the most difficult (although this is counteracted slightly by including power-up boosts upon losing a life). Unfortunately, even though this Arcade Archives installment contains different versions, it also inherits problems from previous games in the series. Specifically, all you get is a bare-bones arcade game with no extra content (besides the three selectable versions). Also, the leaderboards only hold the top 100 players. I think it's about time they bumped that number up a bit so more players can see how they stack up against the rest of the world. On the plus side (kind of), you can play with a friend but only if you take turns (which I find almost completely redundant).
One problem with this port is the intense slowdown that occurs frequently. When it happens, it seems to last for way too long to be acceptable. It might happen in different spots depending on the version that you're playing and it could be true to the original arcade machines, but having gameplay slow down to the speed of molasses in 2015 can be downright irritating. If the original arcade versions slowed down, then why didn't they improve them in this port? Or, better yet, why not implement an option so gamers who prefer an authentic experience can indulge in the slowdown while other gamers can play a more stable game? It doesn't make much sense.
Gradius is a true shoot 'em up masterpiece that inspired many future games of the genre. If you're ready to take to the skies and relive some gaming memories then this is a must-download, but be warned since the flight may undergo more turbulence than you'd expect.
- + Classic shoot 'em up gameplay that's still enjoyable in this day and age
- + Contains three slightly different versions
- + The entire campaign is seamless and cohesive
- - Same old Arcade Archives limitations
- - Intense slowdown occurs regularly
- - Sound effects can become annoying