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Hindsight : Gradius V

Cart: Gradius V
Cab: PS2
Coin: Treasure

Few developers are more revered by arcade loving gamers than Treasure. They have produced some of the most wonderfully precise games of the past decade – and it must be said: whoever at Konami decided to allow them to produce a Gradius game deserves every promotion that they ever get.

For those who have never tried them: the Gradius games are the ultimate in shoot-em-up hell, stuffed full of repetitive starts and crippling weapon losses. The Gradius Collection on PSP is a perfect example of how to take a fun game and destroy it, several times over with impossible difficulty spikes. As soon as you die, you might as well restart from scratch.

You'll see this, a lot.

You’ll see this, a lot.

Perhaps ironically, for a decade the best Gradius games were the Parodius series (The SNES version Parodius Da! being perhaps the most well-known): an in-house spoof of Gradius using fluffy creatures and cartoon styled artwork. The difficulty was reduced a little and this move alone made it ten times more fun.

Gradius V finds the perfect middle-ground with that typical Treasure feature of immense difficulty being lessened by minimising the sense that what you are playing is unfair. Every mistake you make is your fault – and you can always do better. By providing options to maintain some of your weapons and not restart each section, the game provides a much more consistent and re-playable challenge. You can still play it like an old Gradius game, if you enjoy the gaming equivalent of BDSM, but the rest of us can enjoy it a whole lot more.

Typical Parodius, a pink ship (Twinbee) versus a spidery limbed lady

Typical Parodius, a pink ship (Twinbee) versus a spidery limbed lady

Make no mistake though: this game is tough. I have played it sporadically over about 8 years and only ever completed it once, but the challenge never loses its appeal.

The real joy of this game comes from the level design, which takes all of the Gradius staples and brings them into the modern age of gaming beautifully. The four ship types provide a good variety of control options, which gives you that ‘one more go’ feeling, and adds a decent layer of strategy that most shooters lack.

But Gradius V isn’t perfect. Some of the enemy bullets are small and white, which can make them very hard to see when the screen is full.

You'll need a weapon setup like this to get very far...

You’ll need a weapon setup like this to get very far…

In addition, some of the levels towards the end do start to fall into the category of ‘impossible to clear without dying’. If anyone with a life outside gaming has ever completed the ‘green goo’ level (stage 6) on one life, they deserve a medal.

However, regardless of its flaws, Gradius V is the finest shooter on the PS2 (it’s the main reason I’ve kept mine) and arguably one of the best ever made. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has ever liked shoot-em-up games or indeed other Treasure titles.

It’s also one of the select few PS2 titles that plays from disc on the emulator PCSX2 without requiring a hugely powered PC, so even non-PS2 owners can give it a try – with a legally bought disc of course 😉

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Rob is an advertising strategist and author of 'The Ad Pit' blog. Rob has been playing games for 25 years - which makes him feel very old. He used to have a victory ratio of 40:1 in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but that was a long time ago! #dogyears

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  1. Whenever I see anything Gradius related, it makes me want to play the original Nemesis in the arcade

    • Simon Burns It makes me want to play Parodius. I still have my Japanese SNES boxed copy in great condition 😀

  2. Interesting. I may just give this a go via the method you wrote. Personally, I am a fan of Bullet Hell games, and I can see that you are too Rob as you have DoDonPachi as one of your favourite games.

    • Sam Hewitt I gave-up on bullet hell after completing Xenon 2 without an auto-fire. I say gave-up; my thumb fell off.

      • Luke Martin VA Sam Hewitt Hmmm I smell a list of the best bullet hell games on the horizon. Anyone that does it and doesn’t include Ikaruga will be cleaning the arcade toilet by lunchtime.

        • Simon Burns Luke Martin VA Sam Hewitt I did enjoy Ikaruga but I personally prefer the likes of Gigawing; number one that is, not two as that was crap. There is also a few good free ones to play on Kongregate that is mouse only.

        • Sam Hewitt Simon Burns Luke Martin VA *Glances at Simon* The semi-colon is strong with this one; a fine young Padawan, he has become.

        • Simon Burns Luke Martin VA Sam Hewitt I shall definitely be interested in writing that one. Maybe just shumps rather than bullet hell 😀

    • Sam Hewitt Indeed. I’m not particularly great at them, but I do love them!

      • RobMortimerVA Sam Hewitt I’d like to think that I am okay at them. But then you watch some insane japanese player complete the game on the hardest level without getting touch and you then just feel like a complete amateur.

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