[GRADIUS GAIDEN LOGO]


[BEYOND THE WHITE STORM]
Console: PSone

Company: Konami

Release Date: August 1997

Genre: Shoot 'em up

Number of Players: 1 or 2 (simultaneous)

Save Feature? Yes



Gradius Gaiden is everything that a shoot 'em up should be. It brought together the winning elements from Gradius/Salamander fame and combined them with the power of the PSone: an awesome combination indeed. The game is solid on all counts with spectacular graphics, flawless play control, and some of the most challenging levels ever seen in a video game. The only problem? The game was not released in America; a tragedy of epic proportions.

Overview: I have always been a huge fan of the shoot 'em up genre. I grew up playing shoot 'em ups for the NES such as Stinger, Gyruss, and Life Force. For years, Life Force was my favorite shoot 'em up because of the combination of a great atmosphere with endless nostalgia. I just found it enjoyable to blast away alien hordes with high-tech weaponry. The feel/atmosphere of a good shoot 'em up is really cool as well; you never know what the next level will look like or what mysteries it might hold. This anticipation of the unknown really made these games a blast to play. It was especially fun when the game had a two player option!

The people at Konami did not disappoint with the release of Gradius Gaiden. The same company that released Life Force (and the other games that I mentioned above actually) came up with yet another incredible shoot 'em up that has to rank among the greatest ever! In terms of overall performance, Gradius Gaiden is as solid as any game out there (not just shoot 'em ups either). Although the game contains amazing graphics and music, the gameplay is what really gives the game its great flow.


[CRYSTAL NIGHTMARE] [REQUIEM FOR REVENGERS!]

Graphics: Hoo boy! This game is for all of the Gradius fans who have stuck with the series from the beginning. The graphics in Gradius Gaiden are still good ole' 2-D graphics but man are they awesome! Vibrant colors, smooth animation, action packed yet a noticeable lack of slowdown; these features are the staple of the graphics in Gradius Gaiden. I found this so exciting especially after having to deal with the annoying slowdown in Gradius III for the Super NES. Konami did an amazing job of using the capabilities of the Playstation machine yet keeping old school fans such as myself happy. The opening movie is very nicely done as well! More movies would have been cool but hey, I won't complain! This game has that same feel that made Gradius and Life Force two of the most memorable shoot 'em ups of the 1980s.

The animation is also incredible! I can't believe that so many sprites can move on the screen simultaneously without creating slowdown. Some of the background animation is very nice as well. I really like the aurora that forms in the opening stage. That stage really set the tone for the game and created a neat atmosphere. The organic fortress about halfway through the game gives you the impression of the walls actually being alive. It is pretty wild! The smooth flow of the game that the animation creates is nothing short of superb!

A review of any game in the Gradius series is not complete without mentioning the bosses. True to Konami form, the bosses in Gradius Gaiden are nothing short of outstanding. The picture at the top of this review reveals just one of the many bosses that you have to face during your quest. Crystal gunners, snow worms, spaceship-eating plants, rotating Moai heads; you name it, it is probably in the game. There is even one stage ("Formidable Guardians") which consists of nothing but bosses! Amazing I tell you!

Music: Back in 1998, my good cyberpal Rich actually mailed me a cassette tape containing the soundtrack from Gradius Gaiden! He had said that the game had some great music and he was nice enough to send me a copy. I had not even heard of Gradius Gaiden at the time. I still can't believe that Rich actually mailed me the soundtrack (he was always such a nice guy) but I am sure glad he did! Once I heard "Beyond the White Storm" (Stage 1 track), I was instantly hooked. I just had to play this game even though it was an import!

Although I really enjoyed hearing the Gradius Gaiden soundtrack, I enjoyed it even more when I finally got to play the game. A lot of the music does an amazing job of creating the atmosphere for each level. However, it does not sound as good as stand-alone music. The graphics and music complement each other so well that one without the other just isn't as good as a synthesis of the two. That is the case with the music. Within the game itself, it simply rocks!

There is a lot of variety in Gradius Gaiden's soundtrack. Some tracks are ambient (Organic Fortress), others upbeat (Space Junkyard), others somewhat hip-hopish (Black Hole), and still others intense and adrenaline pumping (Crystal World and Formidable Guardians stages). One of my favorite tracks is the level where you fight several Guardians one after the other. I just find the music to be adrenaline pumping and to connotate a sense of "destiny." Some of the final stages such as "Fate" have some excellent music as well. Granted, there were a few tracks that I didn't care for (e.g. Moai level, some boss music) but on the whole, I was very pleased.

Play Control: Perfect, perfect, perfect...that word pretty much sums up how I feel about the play control in Gradius Gaiden. Believe me; in a game as action-packed as this, flawless play control is a must. Thankfully, the controls are superb throughout the game. The funny thing is the simplicity of the play control; an NES controller would have sufficed for this game. Selecting new weapons, manuevering around small areas, and dodging insane bosses can all be done simultaneously thanks to the nice controls. Believe me, you won't be thinking about how good the play control is when you're in a fix; you will just react and not think twice about it. And when you lose (Trust me, you will lose in this game.), you will only be able to blame yourself. You can't pin your poor performance on the controller in this one!

Challenge: If you consider yourself a "shoot 'em up master" and want a challenge, try your hand at this! Within 30 minutes, you will be on your knees begging for mercy. Gradius Gaiden is as difficult as any shoot 'em up out there: bar none. Due to the lack of slowdown and great game design, even the most tactical players will find this game to be as tough as nails. However, this is not necessarily a negative aspect of the game; it is actually the other way around! Even though I have lost countless times and have reached the point of frustration, I can't say that I ever thought about giving up. On the contrary, I enjoyed the challenge; it kept bringing me back! It was tantalizing to be so close to the end of the game; I just had to try "one" more time to beat it once and for all! Very few shoot 'em ups are able to strike the right chord in terms of difficulty. They seem to be either way too easy or hard enough to cause you to smash your controller into the wall. Although I am sure that many walls have received "mysterious" marks thanks to this game, I feel that the creators at Konami did very well in this category.

Storyline: Unlike most shoot 'em ups, Gradius Gaiden has a somewhat intriguing storyline. Do note the word somewhat, however. Nothing groundbreaking mind you, but somewhat captivating. A mysterious force from the "dark nebula" has been wreaking havoc on the planet Gradius. The citizens of the planet have no idea what lies behind this nebula; it has remained a mystery for many years. Anyone or anything that has dared to venture into this eerie region has never come back alive. Unfortunately, the time for rational thinking has come and gone like the wave of doom sweeping over the surface of Planet Gradius. The planet has been decimated by these mysterious intruders and only four of their greatest spaceships are left. These ships include the Vic Viper and Lord British ships from Life Force fame, the Falchion Beta (best one IMO), and the Jade Knight. It is solely up to them to save the planet. They must journey deep into the Dark Nebula and defeat whatever they find there. If this does not happen, planet Gradius is doomed.

Granted, the storyline is somewhat corny. As the game puts it, "99 percent" of the defense force has been destroyed. That is a little dramatic isn't it? Only you can save the world! However, I like the thought of venturing into a mysterious nebula to fight an unknown enemy. It creates a sense of adventure and anticipation of what the unknown holds. Overall, Konami did alright here. The storyline is nothing great but it gets the job done.

Funfactor: Man, is this game ever fun! If you are at all a shoot 'em up fan, Gradius Gaiden is for you! It is as tough as any game out there but it is still a blast to play. The fluid play control, excellent level design, and lack of slowdown give GG an advantage over virtually every other shoot 'em up out there. The atmosphere of the game is a major factor as well; I just love venturing through the Plant Inferno (with all the mysterious stars/nebulae in the background) and Beyond the White Storm stages. Although I have not been able to enjoy this feature yet, Gradius Gaiden can be played by two players. Few games are more enjoyable than a shoot 'em up with another player!

Negatives: I will never understand how a game this good could receive the shaft in America. Why wasn't it released in the states? It is such a shame that most people will never be able to experience the best Gradius game in existence. Get this game if you can! Related to the actual game itself, I do feel that the high challenge level will turn off many a game player. It is probably one reason why I have had such a difficult time recruiting a second player! It can be especially tough if you lose halfway through a stage. You lose all of your weapons when you are defeated which can make things very difficult. Unless you have patience and perseverance, you might not like this game. On a different note, the story is okay but is nothing original.

[BOTANIC NIGHTMARE]

Ratings: Graphics: 4.4 Music: 4.4 Play Control: 4.9 Challenge: 4.8 Storyline: 3.8 Funfactor: 4.7 Overall Score: 27.0 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!

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