Gradius is practically a genre unto itself. Even after all this time, like many of the great games from it's day, Gradius still has a lot of fans. Well it is time for those fans to rejoice because Konami has decided to release the five game Gradius Collection for the PSP.
Gradius Collection contains Gradius, Gradius II, Gradius III, Gradius IV, and Gradius Gaiden. That is a whole lot of Gradius. It is also Gaiden's first release in the U.S. Fans of the series have been waiting for this collection and Konami has delivered in spades. It's no surprise that the manual for Gradius Collection opens up with a dedication to the fans.
All of the Gradius games play virtually the same. You pilot (mostly) the Vic Viper through space, space with caves that is, battling alien ships. Each stage then culminates with a boss battle. As you go through the levels you can earn power ups by killing certain enemies or strings of enemies.
The graphics get better as you go through the collection. Back when these games first came out the difference between Gradius and say Gradius IV seemed more significant than it does today though. In this day of 360s and soon to be released PS3s, our eyes have been spoiled. Playing the collection now, the graphical differences don't really seem important. That being said, with a game like Gradius, graphics only really need to be functional. Since the 2 dimensional side scrolling format is maintained throughout the series better graphics aren't really needed to enhance the gameplay. Most people know what to expect from a Gradius game and even from these kind of collections in general. I don't think anyone will be disappointed with Gradius's dated graphics.
Most of the differences in the five games are in the power ups. Each installment adds more power ups. The series power up system also evolves to give you the option of selecting your power ups. Gradius Gaiden's major upgrade is the multiple ships you can pick from. They each have there own unique attacks and power up options. But for true fans, it just doesn't feel right flying anything but the Vic Viper.
The Gradius Collection is really well done as collections go. Konami realized two important things: the first is how important it is for people to be able to recreate the arcade experience, as close as possible. The second is that Gradius is just fracking hard. Many of the additional options Konami designed for this collection are geared towards those two things. You can customize the difficulty, the number of lives you have, make the power ups "manual" or "semi-auto", adjust the hit size (setting the hit detection lower or higher making it easier or harder for enemies to hit you), set the wait level (change the games processing speed to either emulate the arcade or live up to the PSP), and change the screen size to either fill the PSP screen or maintain the original aspect ratio. Each of these options give you the opportunity to fine tune your experience. For the hardcore, you can make the game as close to the classic arcade experience as possible. For the rest of us, those who must admit we are not as good at these old games as we once were, we can adjust the settings so that we can actually make it through the first level. Konami really did an excellent job here.
Another excellent upgrade for Gradius Collection is the save/load option. This serves two functions. First off, it makes it easier. Which, as I said, is much welcomed. You can restart from a save as often as you want and it saves your level, score, and power ups. How great is that?
The second thing these upgrades accomplish is making Gradius more PSP friendly. It makes Gradius Collection more of a portable experience as it gives you the opportunity to play it at your convenience. You can pick up a game or put it down when ever you want. If you are having a really great game but the dentist finally called your name, you don't have to fret, just save your game. Pick it up again when the gas wears off. Konami really put thought into how to make this collection something special.
The final gift to the fans is the Gallery mode. You can use the Gallery mode to listen to the classic music or to view movies from the games. It is a really cool way to relive Gradius glory from days past. Especially if you currently suck at Gradius, the way this reviewer does.
As a standard warning for this kind of game, if you aren't down for some old school, side-scrolling shooter gaming your not gonna be into Gradius Collection. If you are, this collection is a real treat. Fans should have much love for Konami for offering up this gem. It makes me regret that these games aren't also available from Xbox Live Arcade.