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Gradius Collection

For: PSP

Repetitive gameplay at its very best

Product: Gradius Collection | Publisher: Konami | Format: PSP | Genre: Collection, Retro, Shooter | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Gradius Collection PSP, thumbnail 1
We love to give pet names to the things we love. Doing so transfers a certain human character to otherwise functional and mundane objects, or expresses affection for otherwise distant and separate people. If you name something yourself, you automatically express some kind of unique affinity with it. Hence you call your dog Fido, your vacuum cleaner Henry, your wife Honey-bunny, your car Kit or your penis Percy.

Or, if you're embarking on a perilous mission to single handedly take-on interminable waves of skyscraper-high alien entities threatening to obliterate the cosmos, we might excuse you anthropomorphising the only thing standing between your spacesuit and the acid-dripping fangs of an extra-terrestrial oblivion: your spaceship.

In the Gradius series of video games that spaceship is nicknamed the Vic Viper. To fans, this unexpectedly cute pet name is synonymous with the uphill struggle, with victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, with overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and, crucially, with one of the greatest shoot 'em up franchises ever invented.

Gradius Collection on PSP brings together five of these games (the first from 1985, through to 1998's Gradius IV) in one extraordinarily generous package. Each title is presented here exactly as it originally was on the arcade cabinet and, in the intervening years, it's quickly clear that these games have lost none of their heart-melting charm, thumb-cramping challenge or jaw-dropping quality.

The core difference between Gradius and any of the other shoot 'em ups you might have played – handheld or otherwise – is the weapons system. Usually you shoot and defeat key enemies to release power-ups. Capture the power-us and your spaceship's firepower increases, or you gain an extra screen-sweeping smart bomb or perhaps a bonus life.

In Gradius, you still shoot key enemies for these pick-ups, but rather than the game automatically bestowing a bonus on your ship, you pick what gets upgraded yourself. One power-up enables you to increase Vic Viper's speed and maneuverability, while spending two tokens gives the ship ground-attacking missiles.

The more tokens you save up the better the upgrade you can buy and, rather than have you make these choices at the end of a level, you'll need make your selection mid-flight, even as you seek to dodge the hail of enemy bullets hungry to puncture Vic's framework.

This core weapons system is present in all five games in Gradius Collection; the only differences between each are the level design, graphics (which steadily improve throughout the chronology, as you'd expect) and more subtle nuances of difficulty, pacing and the feel of the ship.

The presentation of the games on PSP is excellent and, while there's a long load time to move between each of the five titles, once accessed there are no more load breaks. The visuals look beautiful on the PSP's screen in widescreen expanse – a move that perfectly translates from the original screen aspect ratio.

Indeed, the only potential problem to the novice player is the tough difficulty of the original games (still a challenge even on the default 'easy' setting).

Outside of the game mechanics there are a couple of more serious problems – their importance dependent on how you intend to play the game. The combination of being set in space and the small size of both friendly and enemy ships' bullets means it can be tough to see exactly what you're doing when playing in sunlight, which means progress through the game is only really viable when sat in a darkened room. Also, the precision needed to guide Vic through each level is hampered by the PSP's imprecise D-pad, although this is offset somewhat by the more accurate – but less comfortably placed – analogue stick.

But these are niggles. Gradius Collection is a brilliant set of games that work particularly well on the PSP. It's a well-deserved oasis of gameplay for any gamer thirsty from the summer's PSP drought, or just seeking to revisit forgotten worlds.
Gradius Collection
Reviewer photo
Simon Parkin | 22 September 2006
Whether you wasted your youth on a salty pier arcade with the series, or met Vic Viper for the first time in this review, Gradius will quickly become your pet name for twitch gaming thrills.
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