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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
GENRE: Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-2
November 15, 2000
Gradius ReBirth

Gradius III

Gradius Collection

Gradius V

Gradius Galaxies

More in this Series
 Written by John Scalzo  on August 06, 2001

Review: School is in session and Vic Viper is your teacher.

Retro gaming is all the rage in the video game world now. The Atari Collection for the Dreamcast recently brought 15 classics to a whole new generation. Midway is currently bringing Spy Hunter into the 21st century. Game companies like retro gaming because they can develop these games quick and make a quick buck. Old school gamers like them because they get another chance to play the classics without spending hours trying to get that 15-year-old Atari or NES to work or spending even longer to find an emulator off the internet. And it gives us old schoolers an opportunity to show all these message board fanboys that the latest flavor of the week like NBA Street or Twisted Metal Black is not the "Greatest Game Ever."

So all this ranting brings us to Gradius III and IV, a two game collection Konami released in the early days of the PS2. For us old schoolers the name Gradius is enough to make a little drool appear in the side of our collective mouths. Gradius is the way games used to be, enemies everywhere, shots being fired at you from all directions. It took determination (and a lot of luck) to learn the patterns that would allow you to negotiate through the enemies that completely filled the screen. And Konami has faithfully recreated that here. These are exact ports of arcade mainstay Gradius III and until now, the Japan only Gradius IV. It never made it to American shores until now.

For the uninitiated, Gradius is a simple story. You are the pilot of the Vic Viper, a high-class spaceship that has to destroy the alien hordes that are out there in space. That's it, no huge self-involving story, just good old school alien blasting fun. Ah, but the Vic Viper does have a few special abilities. When certain enemies are blasted, they'll leave behind these orange orbs. And as you collect these orbs, your special weapon meter moves up. And when the weapon you want is selected your special weapon goes down to 0 and you get a cool weapon upgrade, like lasers, or missiles, or maybe a speed burst. And if you let it build long enough, you can gain an option, which is an indestructible floating ball that shadows your ship and adds an extra gun to your arsenal.

OK, history lesson over, what of the games? Well they both play exactly as they did back in the day; you maneuver your ship through the enemies blasting everything in sight (although I did kinda already mention that, didn't I?). And at the end of every level is a giant boss that has a bright red flashing target as his weak point. Sounds easy? Wrong, these games are hard to the point of being impossible. If these types of games aren't your thing, then you'll frustrated really fast at just how hard these games really are. There's a reason this game has unlimited continues, you'll need all of them. And games like these require precision control, and with the Dual Shock, you get all the control you'll need, it's pitch perfect.

For all its old school gameplay, the graphics and the sound do not disappoint either. Well, depending on who you are they might disappoint. Konami has recreated these games exactly as they once where in your local mall. Gradius III is a purely 16-bit experience, with sprites and everything. The graphics are obviously weak by today's standards, but in their day they were state of the art. Gradius IV is a little bit more modern with a few polygons and fancy morphing effects thrown in to give a game a more, well, modern look. And the sound is your standard 16-bit stuff, which while it doesn't have quite the wow factor it used to, still gets the job done. But these two games are so faithful to their original; they even include a little slowdown exactly where the arcade versions featured slowdown. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

But Konami has added a few little things into Gradius III and IV to make it more than just a port of some old classics. First of all, when you first turn on the game you are treated to one of the coolest Full Motion Videos to ever work it's way into a video game. Forget Final Fantasy, somebody get Konami working on a Gradius CG movie. If it looked anything like this FMV, I would be first in line opening day. Gradius III is also given a save option, so you can pick up your game again later (but why Gradius IV didn't get this too is beyond me). But Gradius IV did get a Boss Mode that lets you blast your way through all the bosses with full weapons, good for a few minutes. And as it should be, the only load times are going back and forth between the two games. When either Gradius III or IV is loaded, the whole game is loaded, no more load times after that. Throw in the Konami Code for good measure and you've got a pure old school moment.

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