By: Siou Choy
With the advent
of 3D graphics, RPGs, survival horror and more to the point, arcade
smashes like Time Crisis and House of the Dead, the
old fashioned, press-one-button-rapidly-and-endlessly style 2D
shooter just doesn’t get any respect these days. Well, those of
you who’ve been in mourning since the demise of the Atari have
reason to rejoice: in keeping with the GBA’s policy of "retro…strictly
retro", Konami has brought back yet another taste of the
earliest days of video gaming. Early 80’s arcade staple Gradius
is back, albeit in slightly updated form ("updated" being
a strictly relative term in this case) as the "all new" Gradius
For those of you
who don’t remember the game, here’s a hint: 2D shooter. You
know, Defender? Vanguard? If you remember those Atari
classics, you’ve got a pretty good idea - in fact, Gradius
Galaxies cribs so mercilessly from these two as to call up
charges of copyright infringement…if the copyright laws even last
for that long! But for the very dense (or memory-challenged)
among us, here’s the "plot", such as it is: you are
piloting the "Vic Viper" (is this a sly reference to how
this sort of game belongs to the same era as the infamous Vic-20
personal computer, where you had to input 50 lines of code just to
make a dot bounce its way across the screen?) in an attempt to stop
the alien invasion that has overtaken Ramiles (ooh, we’re getting
into those weird Dungeons & Dragons type names now…watch
out for the geek patrol!). There are four different types of ships
to choose from in the game: "balanced", "wide
area", "power", and "air-to-ground". Each
ship, naturally, has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, but
the essential difference is so minimal as to beggar description –
if you’re interested, pick up a copy and try for yourself.
appreciated feature in games of this sort is the presence of a
battery save in the game, to allow you to return to any level that
you have completed. This is especially nice since you can start at
the level before the end boss in each stage, allowing you to earn
extra powerups (which make those nasty battles just that much
The game also
comes with a hint option, showing you a few tricks of the trade for
completing a given level. While this can be a lifesaver for the
novice, as far as I’m concerned, this is essentially just a cheat;
a cheap way to get through the level. Don’t know about anybody
else, but personally, I’d rather figure things out on my own (this
becomes a disadvantage only in RPGs and the occasional survival
horror, where you have to go back through 6 haunted house floors to
find a key you could have found if only you knew to fire 6 shots
into that bust of Shakespeare!…but that’s another story).
are beautifully done in Gradius Galaxies: everything looks
crisp and clear, with little or no difficulty distinguishing between
objects. The only time things become a bit murky is in the
underground volcano stage, where everything is awash in red and
orange. Naturally, this makes it a bit tough to figure out which
objects onscreen are flames erupting at you from the
omnipresent land masses as opposed to merely being the land masses themselves.
standard for a GBA game, and moreso given the technically
undemanding confines of the 2D shooter per se. For the schmaltz
lover, there are plenty of cheesy robotic and pseudo-futuristic
voices and sound effects interspersed randomly throughout the game.
Some levels in
the game can be confusing, not to mention extremely frenetic; the
worst offender being the aforementioned volcano level: some areas
that appear to be filled with fire turn out to be safe, while others
can and will result in your untimely demise. One interesting
variation from the usual basso ostinato: levels in Gradius
Galaxies are not necessarily the usual linear stages found in
shooters - some stages actually offer the gamer the option to choose
their own path (always a welcome sight, given that we’re under a
Republican administration at the moment).
The controls in Gradius
Galaxies are tight. The ship moves very well and since there are
only two buttons used in the game, there is no way to get confused
(unless, of course, you happen to go by the handle of "George
W."). The B button is used to shoot and drop missiles; the A
button is used to activate power-ups - that’s basically all there
is to it. But the action is very fast paced, so you’ll be glad the
controls are so simple.
What can you say
about a game that aspires to so little, and therefore, achieves its
status so well? Gradius Galaxies is a very nice 2D shooter. If it
would have come out in 1982, jaws would have dropped, and it would
have been the hottest thing in town (outside of Pac Man and Donkey
Kong, anyway). As it is, it’s a pleasant bit of retro, with
some fairly appealing (for the genre) graphics. Pong, anyone?
at it's best.
- Loads of fun
for retro-style, 2D shooter fans
- Plenty of
levels and sublevels to keep you busy
- All fun and
nostalgia aside, the game is a no-brainer.
- Levels can
get too crazy; you can't always tell what's in front of you or
what you're flying into.
- Sound effects
are not up to par for this day and age (but still fairly
standard for a game of this type).
- Very minor
port problems associated with the platform.
is an old style, early 1980’s 2D shooter, done right. Anyone who
grew up playing this type of shooter game will enjoy themselves
thoroughly. Those who don’t have any particular affection for this
sort of thing, however, will point out that it’s a mindless game,
requiring no skill, with no purpose but to shoot down alien ships.
So take your pick, depending on how you feel about the ultra-retro
2D shooter subgenre. Personally, I enjoyed myself thoroughly,
despite any aesthetic or critical considerations to the contrary.
And for what it is, Gradius Galaxies is fairly well made, and
ranks as a fun and challenging addition to the GBA’s ongoing