Remember when I said I still like 1942? After playing Gradius, 1942 feels like it came out back in the Pong days. It's not that 1942 was bad for its time, it's that Gradius feels like a game from the future. Some will try to argue that the idea is the same, but other than shooting targets I couldn't disagree more. Gradius has personality, atmosphere, player choice, and quirks that 1942 and other games in the genre couldn't bother with back then. Rather than forcing power ups onto the player, you get to decide what you need based on a unique upgrade system. Sure you can cash in right away for a nice speed boost to dodge enemies, but wouldn't you rather have missiles? Or double shots? Or a second artillery? The list goes on. And even better, they stack up! When you're completely powered up nothing feels more powerful than the Vic Viper. No Moai heads, giant space worms, or upside down volcanoes are gonna change that.
Do I have bad things to say about the game? Sure! Most notable, the interesting and then eventually game breaking mechanic that you should lose ALL your power ups once you die. That's especially unfair in a game that gives you only one HP if you don't have a force field around you. That's not a little flaw, it's a huge setback that will make later segments of the game, in my opinion, impossible to complete. But I had so much fun when the game was doing things right that I'm not about to shut it down because of the Viper's death. I'll just start over!
On paper, Gradius would not be the kind of game I am generally interested in. The arcade style side scrolling shoot em up has just never been much of my thing. So for Gradius to have won me over really speaks to how polished and fun it is. It has great music, clean graphics, smooth movement and controls, enemy and level variety, power-ups and customization, the list goes on and on.
Not only did this level of care and attention to detail impress me, but it made me have a lot of fun with a genre I usually don’t care for. It feels like one of the most complete game experiences we’ve had since Super Mario Bros.
The reputation of this game precedes it, but I was unprepared for just how much it's an actual joy to play. My colleagues above aren't lying when they say it feels like it's from the future. While the graphics are limited in fidelity, the gameplay itself is smooth as butter. I got so used to hardly being able to see what I'm doing from sprite flicker that it feels like this game is in 4K HDR Progressive FLAC.
Beyond the surface level, it introduces a progression system that tests the players sense of risk-reward, as Mike has mentioned above. This may be the most interesting mechanic the game introduces. This, as well as truly unique levels that change the way the game plays, make the game stand out. Certified essential.