Maybe it's because companies are running out of ideas or maybe it has been just proven that there is a market for compilations but I absolutely love how publishers are revisiting old titles. From Capcom's Classics and Mega Man collections to offerings my Midway, Namco and Tecmo, it seems everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. The audiences for these particular games come in two different forms. First and foremost are the gamers who played all of these titles years ago in their youth. The other is the new generation of gamers who probably haven't been exposed to these classics. Whichever place you find yourself you'll definitely want to check out this particular collection if you love blowing things up.
The Gradius series follows the exploits of the trans-dimensional spaceship Vic Viper. The Viper is a formidable craft that receives upgrades as you collect them and can unfortunately be taken out in one hit unless you have some shields running. It sounds like standard stuff in the side-scrolling shooter genre, but to be honest Gradius and the games featured here are some of the ones that created the standard by which the genre is judged by. Similar to R-Type this franchise has developed a cult following over the years and each new installment offers something fresh to play with, as you'll see here. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to history.
First of all let me just say that if you have never played a side-scrolling shooter there is something wrong with you. I don't mean to take potshots or what not but the genre has been going for well over twenty years and it's very unlikely that someone reading this review hasn't piloted some form of ship in this circumstance. In case you are this rare individual though let me summarize Gradius for you as simply as possible. You fly a ship while dodging enemy fire and trying to destroy stuff.
That's basically the launching board for the genre and is part of that "standard" I mentioned. The Gradius series took it one step further by offering upgrades after you destroy certain enemies. As you collect these rewards the game will keep tally on where your upgrade icon is now located. With the simple press of a button you can improve your missiles, maneuverability, lasers or shields. Later installments in the franchise took this idea and bulked it up offering double upgrades and more features. That's really where the beauty of Gradius Collection resides; you get to see the progression of the game in relevant form.
You have to keep in mind that if you slip up and get hit by an enemy it's time for all of your pretty little upgrades to go bye bye. This is true in every Gradius game so it's important that you always pick the right tools for the job. Of course the game gets exceedingly more difficult in a very short amount of time. You can go from a slow, plodding pace with only a few enemies on screen one moment and then be bombarded by foes in every direction while you're traveling quickly thanks to the speed upgrades. Yes, the game is difficult and oft frustrating, but to be honest that's something the Gradius series has always done well: it gives you a challenge.
By this point you're wondering what exactly the Gradius Collection includes. Things start off with the original 1985 version of Gradius in all of its classic arcade goodness. After that we get Gradius II from 1988 and then Gradius III from 1989. Gradius IV is included as well, but the real treat here comes in the form of Gradius Gaiden which was made for home consoles in 1997. This marks the first time that particular title has been released outside of Japan. It is the most advanced and quite possibly the best out of all five of the games here.
Collections of classic titles are often a difficult thing to review. On one hand you have the classic nature of the game with gameplay memories you recall the moment you start playing. On the other hand the games feel almost too familiar thanks to the nostalgia factor of having played the games before. Another thing to consider is that appeal of older games compared to what's currently on the market. Will some 12 year old want to play a game that was made before they were born? Most likely not, but then I guess they wouldn't be the target audience of a compilation like this.
Just like the gameplay you can see the subtle improvements in graphics over the years as the Gradius series was released. Still you're talking about games that came out a long time ago so they just don't hold up by today's standards. It's not like you could expect them to, but that's another pitfall when it comes to playing a collection of classic games. You do have to give Konami credit where credit is due though. Their franchise looks great on the PSP's LCD screen and it is arguably the best presentation that these titles could have received.
The sound direction for the Gradius series has always been good. From the soundtrack to the effects and voices, just about everything here has been top of the line since the series started over twenty years ago. The quality of the audio holds up very well on the PSP and even though it's "vintage" I'd have to say it rivals titles currently on the system. Things sound much better with headphones being used but otherwise the quality is very good.
I have always loved the Gradius franchise and have fond memories of playing the games throughout my childhood. To say I grew up on games like this would be a grievous understatement and I'm sure many of you out there reading this review could say the same thing. If you're younger chances are pretty good that you haven't played a shooter like this before. Most everything is in the first person now or features 3D effects that could blow your mind. Sitting back with an arcade classic like Gradius is a trip down memory lane and one that is definitely worth taking. The price tag of $40 is a little high for what you get here, but having five games in one package with one of them never having been released in America before is a godsend for fans.