Released in 1985 by Konami, the original Gradius was quite a revelation and hugely influential. It introduced and popularised many features that are still evident in even the latest bullet-crazed shmups from Japan.
As well as being heavily copied by others, it’s a game that has also given Konami a lot of mileage over the years, both in terms of direct sequels, and spin-offs. The fact that most of these follow-ups rarely strayed too far from the original game’s template underlines just how well-executed it was all those years ago. This is a trend that continues with the latest entry in the series, Gradius ReBirth.
Unlike the more recent entries in the series, ReBirth eschews polygons in favour of vintage-look 2D graphics. Whether this was a move brought about by file size limitations of the WiiWare service, or not, is unknown, but with hindsight it was certainly a good decision. Making ReBirth look and sound retrograde provides it with no small amount of charm and gives the impression that it could slot somewhere into the timeline of the original trio of coin-ops.
The gameplay is also reminiscent of those 1980s games, and so too, is the difficulty level. Things start off nice and easy, allowing the player to build up the Vic Viper’s arsenal and manoeuvrability to a seemingly near-invincible state by collecting and using the numerous power-up tokens. Once a life is lost however, it’s back to square one with a sluggish, almost useless ship. In other words, this is classic Gradius and anyone who’s familiar with the series will feel right at home.
With just five main levels, ReBirth is slightly smaller than previous editions, plus it lacks any multiplayer options. Clearing those five levels still represents a decent challenge for most players, but experts may feel slightly short-changed. Of course with this being Gradius, there is no real “end” in any case, just increasingly difficult loops of the same levels until Game Over finally occurs.
Still, a couple more levels wouldn’t have gone amiss, but what is actually included is excellent and delivers a strong helping of nostalgia. Indeed, ReBirth’s opening volcanic level is an almost exact recreation of the 1985 original’s, but with an interactive twist. The other levels also offer variations on recurring themes of the series including the obligatory Moai statues. As stated, there’s no multiplayer, but the game does feature a Score Attack mode complete with online leaderboards, and also the ability to save a replay of your run through the game.
Overall, this is a great little shooter that will appeal to series veterans and newcomers alike. To be honest, it could just as easily have been titled Gradius Remix, given how familiar a lot of it is, but there’s just enough new stuff present for it to get away with it. You get the impression that it was Konami’s intention to wallow in a bit of nostalgia anyway, rather than provide a brand new entry into the series, and to that end, they’ve succeeded quite admirably.