Gradius V has now arrived.
It is, of course, terrific. I could go into detail. Instead, I ask:
WHERE’S MY LORD BRITISH?!?!
I could have sworn it was there at E3, last year. Now player two just steers a red-tinged Vic clone.
GIVE ME MY LORD BRITISH, MISTER IUCHI.
WHERE’S MY COPPER SPACESHIP OF LOVE, NAKAGAWA?
Otherwise, all is good.
Here are some things from an IM conversation with Shep over the evening:
Gradius V is really, really good. It’s pretty hard. It’s the kind of hard where you get a little further every time, though.
It’s also got a lot of… details. I mean. You can set two different kinds of respawn behavior, in the options. The default is Life Force style. You can also set it to go back and restart at checkpoints, though, as in the other Gradius games. If you really want to.
If you get your ship fully sped-up, it nowhere near as too-fast as in past games. And then it cycles back. If you want to slow down, you just get another capsule and select it again, to reset.
Also. You don’t need your shield to be depleted entirely, to activate a new one. This is actually helpful.
The game looks like Ikaruga, stylistically. You can tell they just dumped everything they learned about rendering a 3D 2D shooter into this.
It also, though… incorporates some elements of Ikaruga’s decoration. Along with all of the Gradius and Life Force stuff. Subtle things.
Like the tube that the player’s ship flies out of, as Ikaruga begins. I swear that’s in the background somewhere.
When you play for long enough, or maybe when you get far enough, or when you reach a high enough score (I’m not sure which), you unlock more credits. To start with. Much as in Ikaruga.
There is a little Bangai-O influence in here. Mostly with how chaotic it can get, and the way the options work now.
The remixes of old Gradius and Life Force tunes somehow make them sound majestic. Epic. Something from a big space opera. That’s part of the whole tone the game tries to capture. This elegant… space thing. Even the font on the side of the DVD case looks like the one used in the logo for The Last
After three or four tries (and after having already practiced all last E3), I managed to improve enough to beat the first level on one life. I’ve discovered if you can power up the Viper to full strength by the beginning of level two, you should have few problems for a while. If not — well. It’s not impossible, like other Gradius games. It’s just much tougher. Treasure manages to always leave leeway — some desperate means to get through a situation, even if you’ve no real means to protect yourself.
Smiley: I want Limeade.
Actually. The boss of level four — I blew two credits on it when I went in with full power (and still had all of the options for the subsequent lives). Then I went back and beat it without a single power-up. Not even a speed-up.
It’s. I really like the balance here.
Smiley: Whrr? That… didn’t used to happen in the old games. Dying was a pretty big deal.
I know. It’s been a real torture in past games. Now it’s just… very bothersome. It makes the game much more hair-raising. You have to try that much harder.
Smiley: Now you’re just taunting me.
The game does similarly. I mean. It has fun with the player. In that virtuosic, subconsciously self-aware Treasure way.
In round three, three-quarters of the way through the level, you blast a hole in the floor and start scrolling down. You know that boss-thing from Gradius, that pops up at the end of every level? One of those starts chasing you down the snaking corridor, shooting all the while. You need to either aim your options to shoot behind and above you, to hit it while you’re running away and dodging its shots and trying not to get crushed against the walls, or you need to wedge yourself through a corner and behind it, so it passes you. Before you’re done, another one appears. Then another. And then you’re done with that section. You start to scroll to the right. You shoot your way through a few barriers. Now you’re in a narrow corridor, with very little space to move around. And another one of those boss-things starts to hurtle right at you, from the right side of the screen, spinning as it goes. Then another. Then another. And another. And another. And another. If you’re fully powered-up, you can blow up each one an instant before it collides with you. Otherwise, you need to duck into any crevices you can find or somehow time it to slip past as they spin.
It’s… just toying with you.
At one point, you go through a time warp and meet the Vic Viper from some earlier Gradius game and you have to help it defeat an older boss. [EDIT: Actually, that’s not so. After beating level seven, it becomes clear what’s going on.] After that comes a huge sequence of boss battles. One after another. There’s another stage where it calmly throws an entire screen full of asteroids at you, to find a path through. And you scream.
It likes to scare the hell out of you. But. It’s Treasure. So. There’s always a way through, if you know what you’re doing. Usually more than one. They just like trying to rattle you.
As in every Gradius game since 2, there are four different power-up schemes. All of the facets except for the Options one are more or less standard, across the board. One scheme will have rear shot; another will have double. One will have this kind of missile, one will have that. The factor that all of these are balanced around, however, is the options: how the options behave. And rightly so, since they’re a big part of what makes Gradius what it is.
The first scheme is a the classic one. The options just follow you as normal. If you hold R1, they freeze in place, relative to your ship. Easy enough.
The third scheme causes the options to line up vertically, above and below you. When you press R1, you pull them in or stretch them out.
The fourth one allows you to gyrate the options quickly around the axis of the Viper. When you have the laser, this is particularly interesting to witness.
The second scheme is the scheme; the scheme which makes Gradius V what it is. Namely, it lets you aim the options. By default, they shoot forward; when you hold R1, then press a direction on the D-pad, you swoop the options’ beam in that direction. When you let go of R1, the beam stays fixed. It’s… kind of like Forgotten Worlds. You can aim them in any angle. And. Most levels are designed around you doing this constantly.
Now. There’s only one kind of laser. The only other things which really change, from scheme to scheme, are the bomb and the double shot. And, again, they change according to the option behavior. In scheme 2, clearly, you have no need for a standard double shot, since you can just aim the options wherever. Instead, you have a rear gun. Of course, this means when you aim the options… you get a lot of bullets. Because the options have the double-shot as well…
Scheme 1 is the “classic Gradius” scheme. Scheme 2 is the G5 scheme, essentially. Scheme 3 is for tacticians, who want to precisely control where they’re putting what shots. Scheme 4 is kind of the opposite. It’s for going nuts.
And. Actually. More than the other Gradius games I’ve played, this game does seem designed specifically to allow any of these approaches. Even if the second one is the one it’s really made for, you can still come at it with any of the above strategies. And heck, again, you can even set it to the old style of respawning, using checkpoints, if you want to go all the way with the “classic Gradius” layout.
It’s a very flexible game, in that Treasure way: amenable to, and understanding of, the different ways people go at material like this.
Depending on your approach, the challenge will be a little different.
It really took someone with a bit of distance to dissect the series and put it back together again, to make it everything that it could be but never quite was (with one exception). Mostly, fun. Focused. And yes, majestic.