Gradius ReBirth Impressions
Curse you, Vic Viper weapon upgrade system!
I promised I'd deliver Gradius ReBirth impressions once I'd defeated that damn second boss. So here I am, with my impressions of ReBirth. The only problem is -- and I'm being honest even though I probably don't have to -- I still haven't defeated the boss.
I gave up!
I spent over an hour trying to kill it. Each run started about where this video starts, and ended about where this video ends.
For the Gradius newbies (and, to be honest, I'm pretty close to one of them), that video should provide a hint as to why this particular shooting series is so tough. The clip starts at the fourth midway point of the level. When you die while fighting the boss, you get sent back there. Here's what sucks. You lose all your weapons and have to quickly build up your ship before reaching the boss again.
While many shooters take away your weapons when you die, Gradius makes things particularly difficult by starting your ship off in such a weak and useless state. Your ship moves so slowly initially that you pretty much have to get a couple of speed power ups or you won't even be able to avoid enemy fire.
In case you really are new to Gradius and don't know how the series' power-up system works, here's a quick recap. Your ship has a chain of possible weapon and ability additions. Each time you collect power-up item, a cursor climbs up on that chain, giving you access to a new weapon or ability. You can select to add the weapon to your arsenal, or continue collecting power-ups to further climb up the weapon chain. Once you select a weapon, the cursor goes back to the start of the chain, and you have to collect more power ups to climb back up and add a new upgrade.
The video shown above has the first skill in the chain set to speed, followed by missile, then double, then laser, and so-forth, ending in shield. I initially select a speed upgrade, then a missile upgrade, then another speed upgrade, then a double upgrade. I then select another missile upgrade (inadvertently, to be honest) which increases the power of the first missile upgrade. In the end, I add a laser.
When you first start the game, you get to select a weapon chain that suits your needs. In ReBirth, you have the ability to select from three chains. One side effect of your selection is that your ship will end up focusing on a different style of play, such as greater attack strength or more wide-ranging attacks.
This is the Gradius power-up system, and I absolutely love it. I also absolutely hate it because it makes the game so hard. Imagine taking the time to strategically build up a powerful Vic Viper (that's the name of your ship), only to die and have to start all over. Of course, building up that powerful Vic Viper again a second time is a lot harder now because you're farther along in the game and are stuck with a ship that's too slow to avoid enemy fire, much less collect power-ups.
Don't get me wrong, Gradius faithfulls. I'm not criticizing the weapon system. It actually turns out that even with a crappy ship, you can work your way through the stages. You just have to adjust your game. And you have to be patient and prepared to die a lot.
The WiiWare entry in the series takes care of those who die a lot, as well as those who consider themselves Vic Viper virtuosos. In addition to five difficulty settings (including two below the normal setting), you can set your lives to between 1 and 7 and adjust the point totals required for getting a new life. Plus, you have infinite continues, so the lives don't really mean all that much. When you get tired of playing, you can quit without worries, as the game lets you select your starting stage from the title screen, right down to your choice of midway point!
Other options available in the options menu include screen and HUD positioning, an option for zooming the screen in, which lets you shrink the game screen down to 50% the size of your monitor, and a bunch of controller options. You can select between Wiimote, Classic Controller, Nunchuck, or GameCube controller. I personally select Classic Controller and plug this in:
Jealous? You're jealous.
You can assign individual buttons to power up, shot, missile, and rapid shot. This means you can separate missile and shot, although the default is for the two to be together so your ship automatically outputs missiles as you fire standard shots.
The full customization also means that you can play the game one handed with the nunchuck. It actually somewhat works, if you map power-up to C and shot or rapid shot to Z. I'm not sure if I'd control the game like this, though, unless I've got a hot chick next to me and I want to show her I care by putting my arm around her.
Play modes include the main story mode and a score attack mode. Also included is a Wi-Fi enabled ranking mode. Sadly, this is yet another horrible ranking mode implementation, apparently done by people who decided to take lessons from Hudson (see the ranking modes in Star Soldier and Alien Crush Returns). To view online rankings, you have to select to download the data for each mode and difficulty individually. The connection and download process takes over 15 seconds, and once you've viewed a set of data, you're sent back to the local ranking view. If you want to see the data again, the game has to reload the data. I can't believe it doesn't at least store a local copy!
The horribly implementation of the online rankings is disappointing, as Gradius ReBirth has a feature that seems like it would be cool as a community feature. In the score attack mode, you can save replays of your play for future viewing. Wouldn't it be neat if you could send those replays to friends? Yeah, that would be neat, wouldn't it? Maybe next time.
In terms of actual shooting content, the game is supposed to combine new and remake-style elements. I haven't played the older Gradius games, so I can't say what's what. I am having a total blast, although it should be noted that shooters were my favorite genre back in the 16-bit days (I was a Turbo Grafx and Genesis guy, though, so no SNES games for me).
Despite having never played the classic entries in the series, I have a feeling I may be getting a pretty close taste with ReBirth. As you can see in the video, Gradius ReBirth isn't really much of a Wii game. Konami appears to have taken a Mega Man 9 approach with the title, offering a game that purposefully looks and plays like a classic game.
Here, rather than an NES game, Gradius ReArmed looks like an SNES game all zoomed up to run on Wii. It even has massive amounts of slowdown. It's nothing too overwhelming -- at least not in the first couple of levels -- but when the stage fills with power-ups, things start crawling.
ReBirth doesn't sound like an SNES game, though (in sound quality, that is... composition is pure 16-bit era). Picture an SNES game with sound more closely approaching CD quality, and you'll have the idea.
While the graphics are strictly 16-bit and the online ranking mode is embarrassingly bad, Gradius ReBirth is sucking my time up like shooters of old. I can't tell you if it's worth 1,000 yen or not, but I'm personally planning on continuing play until I've at least defeated that damn second boss.