When I was playing Gradius V, one thing kept coming back to me over and over again: man this is hard, and I sure am dying a lot - but I am having a great time all the same.
I have always enjoyed a side scrolling shooter. I believe my first one was Parsec for the TI99/4a. Dealing with wave after wave of enemies, memorizing flight patterns, boss movements and more were a challenge both mentally and to your reflexes. I spent a ton of time with the genre on the NES as well, with Gradius and Life Force being among my favorites.
The meat and potatoes to the gameplay in Gradius V involves avoiding terrain and enemy ships and bullets while doing your best to scrap the opposing ships as well. Power-ups are frequently dropped and are used in a sort of constantly rotating list of weapons ranging from missiles, lasers, shield and speed boosts and more. The most interesting power-up is the additional ship or 'option', which mirrors your ship's fire patterns. Even better, unlike power-ups that are lost when you die, the option remains on the screen and gives you a chance to sweep over it and pick it up again upon respawning. Piling up multiple options is really the key to success, though managing your other powers can be vital as well.
The options really do give Gradius V its most unique and flexible mechanic, however. Most of the classic horizontal shooters worked on a left-to-right basis. Shots came horizontally from other ships. Bosses were flown around but shot at horizontally. These allow you to work some angles, which is key since a good number of the scenes (and the bosses in particular) require a bit of additional angling to destroy. Maybe 'require' is a strong word - you can beat the game with just your horizontal gun, but that is not the best way to advance.
There is very little margin for error here. You will die and die a great deal. Gradius V reminds gamers of just how hard games used to be. The outstanding soundtrack and visuals that look surprisingly solid still today combine to make the fast-paced experience one of the best in shoot-'em-up history and even all of these years later it holds up pretty well.
The options found within the game help to keep things interesting. There are a handful of different types of ships you can choose to use. There are different modes outside of the normal campaign and there is even the option to jump to different levels you have beaten. There are eight stages in total, and even with the different difficulty settings - it will take some work to plug through all of them.
With this being a PS2 Classic on the PlayStation Network, you do not get trophies or HD graphics. This is just a faithful reproduction of the classic game by Konami. Gradius and R-Type have long been among the best shooting franchises from over the years, and while some genres tend to hold up poorly a decade later, this is one that I feel usually holds its own - so long as the original game was done well. There is certainly newer and shinier games in the genre now, but Gradius V has always been among my favorite shooters and it still provides plenty of challenge and fun today.
Review by Nick