Many have noticed through the years that games today simply have lost their charm. It has only been within the past year or two that developers have noticed what gamers were beginning to in the late '90s: that graphics were beginning to outweigh play control in terms of importance. At last year's E3, we saw that every console manufacturer (new or old to the industry) was extremely confident in their product not because of how powerful their system was, but because of the quality of games that were to be offered accompanying the hardware. This is true. This, perhaps, is the pure charm and allure which surrounds the Gameboy Advance. Not only is the system portable, but the processor is simply perfect for the 2D games we loved back in the early '90s courtesy of the Super Nintendo. Quality is back in style, and this gamer couldn't be happier.
In a high-tech world of 3D texture-mapping and light-sourcing comes a breath of air still reeking of 1990. As 3rd person platformers take center stage, Konami releases another sequel to a series not yet forgotten in the form of GRADIUS GALAXIES. It seems like every single system to ever hit a store shelf has been grazed by the series, making it one of the longest-running series in history. But instead of attempting to reinvent the series, Konami takes it back to 2D 32-bit where many gamers would agree it belongs.
GRADIUS GALAXIES has what brought the others in the series such success... options, options and more options. The weapon system is extremely similar to the arcade and home versions of ten years ago. The player begins with a slow ship and one gun. After shooting down a couple ships and collecting the orbs from the wreckage, the gamer can choose where the power-up is to be used... for speed, guns, lasers, missiles, shield, etc. This option is extremely helpful when it comes to certain levels. For instance, at one point meteors are spinning out of control toward the ship with little to no enemies on screen. If planned, the player can collect power-ups, assigning extra power to the speed option. Such a system involves the player in a way most other developers don't even dabble in.
Like other versions of GRADIUS, the (American) player will find even the beginning levels difficult. The problem in the past was that the player had to work their way up to the stage they couldn't pass before, only to get killed right before the part they had trouble with previously. This can get very frustrating. Konami has eliminated such frustration with the option to basically save wherever the game ends. Most levels are split into smaller sections, allowing for better save accuracy.
In terms of graphics, GRADIUS GALAXIES offers what anyone would want in a handheld shooter. Bright enemies and huge, detailed bosses make up for what is to be an instant classic. Certain background elements will sport mode-7 properties, keeping the gamer on their toes. In one instance, the player must maneuver through a small crack in a meteor taking up the entire screen. It's funny, but mode-7 scaling and rotation effects have more of an impact nowadays on a handheld, as the pixelization is smaller and, with the more available colors of the Gameboy Advance, rough edges can be filled in with ease. One problem faced by shooters across the board is slowdown. So many enemies onscreen at once can cause a processor struggle, but things have definitely been improved since shooters were one of the top genres (i.e. GRADIUS III- SNES). Another treat is that the gamer has no problem navigating through the game considering the size of the screen. As seen in Konami's latest CASTLEVANIA incarnation for the same system, most areas are dark along with the enemies, making for a frustrating time especially when health is close to nil. This same problem was foreseen when developing the new GRADIUS, as foreground objects were brightened and backgrounds were kept in the darker spectrum. So basically, the player can enjoy this new shooter in non-perfect light and walk away with the same satisfaction as someone who's, let's say, sitting under a half-million candlepower lamp.
Not much is to be said about the audio in GRADIUS GALAXIES. The sound effects fit what is taking place onscreen, and the music is fairly catchy, but the quality is something directly between the NES and SNES. The effects are definitely 16-bit, sporting sampled voices now and again, but the music seems directly taken from the NES's soundboard. This is both good and bad. The player must sit through beeps and blips throughout the entire game. Some people simply believe we're past that technology-wise. But others will appreciate the talent of making beeps catchy, considering the limitations of the past.
When it all comes down to it, GRADIUS GALAXIES is a title worthy of the Gameboy Advance lineup. Leaps and bounds more interesting than its Iridion 3D neighbor, the new GRADIUS offers a ridiculously large amount of options and weapons keeping the classic gamers happy with a true sequel, while satisfying newcomers with a title belonging to a genre almost forgotten.
Platform: Game Boy Advance
ESBR Rating: Everyone
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Fun Factor: A
Reviewer's Wild Card: A-