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Gradius Galaxies

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Konami
Publisher:  Konami
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Shooter
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  12-08-01

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 Galaxies.

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.

One always 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 easier).

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).

The backgrounds 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.

Sound is 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?

Highs:

  • Side-scrolling at it's best.
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Loads of fun for retro-style, 2D shooter fans
  • Plenty of levels and sublevels to keep you busy

Lows:

  • 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.

Final Verdict:

Gradius Galaxies 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 "flashback" stable.

Overall Score: 7.0

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