The Vic Viper's latest shoot 'em up thrill-ride has finally arrived on PlayStation 3. While creating it back in the day, Konami opted to hand it over to Treasure instead of developing it in-house, but was that a good idea? Who am I kidding, of course it was!
Upon booting up Gradius V, you're treated to a mind-blowing full motion video complete with plenty of lasers and explosions. It's a great way to get you in the mood for some shooting action. The game itself looks awesome even for today's standards. Enemies pop off the screen as the sea of neon projectiles will surely burn images into your eyes. The environments that you find yourself battling within look fantastic as they do a great job of illustrating the vastness of space, the mechanical insides of alien crafts, and the nauseating concept of being inside a living organism. The soundtrack is a cohesive mix of electronica and orchestral scores that consistently adds depth to the atmosphere. Sound effects are mostly muted although important cues are easy to hear as well as the satisfying bang to signify your enemies' demise. From time to time, you'll hear your pilot and his handler speak which is actually well done. You would expect voice actors in a shoot 'em up to be cheesy, but they're surprisingly authentic with an underlying tone of urgency. Overall, Gradius V holds up beautifully over ten years after its initial release.
If you've ever played a Gradius game then you already know what to expect when it comes to gameplay. You use one button to simultaneously fire your main weapon, missiles, and options and another button to deploy power-ups. It's a simple and proven formula. Your power-up meter increases for every acquired item so you can strategize and decide which ones to deploy and when. When starting a game, you can select from four different weapon arrays that feature diverse power-up variants. These are enjoyable to experiment with before you pick your favourite. There's nothing more satisfying than deploying every possible power-up as you and your options create an unstoppable force of lasers and missiles all while being protected by a shield in case you get careless. This amount of firepower will come in handy when you try to take down the unique massive bosses. Once you do, you'll feel unbeatable.
Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome in Gradius V is the intense difficulty. At times, it may feel unfair such as when doors close right in front of you or when you're forced to navigate through an enemy-infested maze. One level even features four bosses that you must defeat one after the other. The following level seems like it goes on forever, especially after you navigate through lengthy corridors while defeating boss after boss. It can be quite daunting, but shoot 'em up enthusiasts will definitely rejoice in the intense old-school challenge. Upon starting Gradius V, you only have an insignificant amount of continues. However, you can earn more for every hour of gameplay so if your skills are lacking, being able to progress further than a few levels can end up taking forever. Luckily, the Konami code is included to help you along the way, but you don't want to cheat, do you?
For those who might find space combat by themselves an intimidating endeavor, don't fret because a friend can join as a second Vic Viper via simultaneous multiplayer. Before jumping in with a chum, first ensure that they're as skilled as you to avoid having to turn off the game in shame. After completing the arduous eight level campaign, you'll automatically start it again with increased difficulty. Besides playing it over and over again to get higher scores and unlock more levels in the level select menu, there aren't any extras to speak of. This is somewhat disappointing because the campaign doesn't feature too much diversity. It has the classic slow pace that Gradius is known for and a handful of memorable moments such as having to play backwards, epic boss battles, and being in the center of a rotating structure, but other than that, you're basically avoiding touching anything and shooting with very little deviation.
Gradius V is a must-have title for fans of classic shoot 'em ups although newcomers will tremble at the immense challenge that awaits them. If you're looking for a straight-up retro experience and don't mind a lack of bells and whistles then there's no reason not to step into Vic Viper's cockpit and take on the evil Bacterian Empire.
- + Awesome graphics, music, and audio
- + Classic Gradius gameplay at its finest complete with brutal challenge and epic bosses
- + Includes cooperative multiplayer
- - Difficulty may feel unfair at times even for genre veterans
- - No content besides the main campaign
- - Gameplay lacks diversity