Review by Cecil255

Reviewed: 10/27/08

A beautiful game much more mired by its primitive, flawed concept than its siblings ever were

Introduction
If you’re like me, your eyebrows shot up a little when you saw this available on the Wii Virtual Console. I consider myself a casual shooter fan, I can beat Gradius, Life Force, and Gradius III with relative ease. Heck, even Ikaruga didn’t pose much of a threat after a good amount of practice.

So I thought I could just pick Gradius II up and have fun with an older gem that I would have otherwise ever saw had it not been for this opportunity. Little did I know that I was in for one of the biggest letdowns of my life.

Gameplay
Gameplay is the core of every game, and here we find what in the end makes Gradius II such a – let’s put it bluntly, bad game.

Most people reading this may already know the basic concept behind the Gradius series. Killing certain small groups of enemies or red enemies will leave behind powerups. Each time you pick up one of these powerups, your weapon upgrade section of the bottom of the screen will scale up to the next slot. You can press the button not assigned to fire to activate one of these slots. This powers up your ship and each time you do it, you start back at the beginning of the slot lineup to scale up it again.

However, if you die you lose all powerups - including shields, weapons, options, and speed upgrades. Needless to say, once you start up your next life you’re really in an uphill battle.

This system had always seemed flawed to me and was really more of an annoyance than anything else in previous Gradius installments I had played. It’s simply not fun or even interesting to have to try and max out your ship’s upgrades again.

Despite this I managed to get over it in the other games. Whenever I died in any tough spot it may have taken me a few lives to get going again, but I could eventually manage to live long enough to finish the level and get to the next upgrade hotspot (the beginning of the next level).

Oh ho ho, not in Gradius II. If you die in any tough spot, you’re almost certainly not going to be able to press on any further without having some good upgrades. You’re forced to restart the level, or worse – the entire game. The default setting of Gradius II is to give you only 3 lives and no continues. Die once, you’re pretty much done unless it happens in one of the first few levels. The other way to play is that the game does give you the option to continue infinitely as if you were playing in an arcade.

An arcade… that’s why the Gradius games do not hold up well in my book. It's based on arcade elements. This is what I am referring to in my title by its primitive, flawed concept. Gradius is a terrific game for arcades and to make money. A good console game it is not. Gradius II was clearly designed to frustrate its player. It feels like a cheap, evil version of Gradius III. Here are a few key reasons why this game is so much harder than the others.

First, Gradius II does not suffer from slowdown. If you are familiar with the bosses of Gradius III you will be fighting some of them in this game as well. But, their projectiles come at you fast and furious, never letting up for a second. No slowdown to give you an easier time flying through gaps of enemy bullets and lasers.

Second, in Gradius II the amount of powerups you can gather at the beginning of a level is very limited. Not only that, but the waves of enemies that leave behind powerups if defeated are almost impossible to take out with the basic gun. If you use a continue to begin at the beginning of say, the enemy base level, more likely than not you're only going to be able to grab about 3 powerups before you're thrust into loads of enemy fire with almost no way to defend yourself.

Third, the weapons are not nearly as good. No E. Laser or specialized options, and there are only 4 pre-defined setups to choose from. You are forced to fight through insane stages with very basic weaponry. It is very difficult to effectively attack enemies on the ceiling, especially when they are all paired together.

And finally, related to the previous point is that the shields are terrible. You have the shield from the first Gradius and the force field from Life Force to choose from. They are big, bulky, and cannot stand up to much enemy fire. I really liked the Reduce shield in Gradius III and there’s nothing like that in this game. There are many narrow passages in the game that will suck away your shield in no time flat even if your actual ship isn’t touching the wall.

Before moving on, I just want to point out that above all, the game is not fun, especially if you are intending on beating the entire game. That is why it scored what it did, the musics and graphics simply cannot make up for these flaws.

Story
We don’t play Gradius games for the story, now do we? I think we’re fighting evil gofers, and a voice at the beginning of the game told me to destroy them all.

Graphics
The graphics are terrific. Very smooth, colorful, and vibrant. Great attention to detail was taken and the environments and enemies look fantastic.

Sound
Sound is amazing as well. Has renditions of classic Gradius music as well as its own unique tracks. Very synthesizer heavy and upbeat - my kind of style.

Replayablity
This game has kept me coming back only because I have wanted to try and beat it after the money I spent to buy it. I have found that the fun factor continues to decline, even as I get better at the game. It feels like a tremendous waste of time getting to the same level or boss over and over just to die and then not be able to progress any further. I am playing on Normal and if I die at the enemy base stage, I cannot progress any further. It takes me probably 5 continues to survive to the boss, and the insane difficulty of it overwhelms me and sends me back to the beginning of the stage. Horrendous.

Final recommendation

I do not recommend this game to anyone, unless you are a diehard Gradius fan or are amazingly talented at shooters. Casual and even good shooter players can expect to spend a great amount of time practicing.

Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou does not feel like a home-friendly game. It feels more like an emulation of an arcade game that was meant to look pretty and steal your time and money - complete with audio clips that mock the player. Do you want to continually hear, "YOU NEED MORE PRACTICE!" when you die?

Your money is much better spent on one of the countless other must-play games on the Virtual Console. If you’re set on wanting to try out a good shooter you’ve never played, you’re better off with something like Blazing Lazers.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Product Release: Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou (US, 10/20/08)

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