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SummaryExecution is everything
The GoodFor such a primitive-looking shooter, the graphics are decent. I can forgive the single-color enemies that appear often, given the hardware limitations of the system at the time. The backgrounds have a nice amount of detail, gradient shadows, and even some animation, such as pods rising out of the ground, giant flames spewing red-hot stones and cilia on the floor and ceiling of the living planet, wiggling back and forth. In addition, the game runs with several objects on the screen at a time, and although it does cause some slowdown, it's impressive to see running at all.
The level design in this game is actually pretty creative. My personal favorites are the Ancient Planet, the Living Planet and the Fortress Planet. They allow the player to change the environment by shooting away at certain structures, allowing for easier ways of progressing. It was so cool to see the ship shoot away at the columns, allowing the platforms they support to fall down, opening up a passageway to the next part of the level.
Another aspect that I find very interesting and unique is the obtainable weapons. You start off with the standard loadout, but if you kill the bosses within a short enough time limit (30 seconds) you can enter their core before they blow up and take a powerup or two from within them. These are usually just upgrades to weapons you already have, but some of them are entirely new weapons, however they're not quite as good as the upgrades.
And on top of all of this, the soundtrack to this game is very good! It's not quite as pounding or epic as I think it could have been, but the instrumentation, rhythms and melodies all flow very well into one another. It also helps that the Konami SCC chip is one of my personal favorite retro sound chips, creating a crunchy, yet still audibly pleasing sound with every song.
The BadDespite the nice graphics, this game suffers when it comes to smoothness of movement. The background scrolling is EXTREMELY choppy, almost to the point of hurting my eyes. Plus, this can make for a few cheap deaths if you're trying to avoid enemy fire near the front wall. You could be fine one second, but then the wall just APPEARS close enough to kill you.
There are also multiple places enemies appear that can't be shot without certain weapons, but they can still shoot at you! And it's made even harder if you respawn near them. You NEED the powerups to progress more in this game than in any Gradius installment!
The level design might be creative, but even this can lead to cheap deaths if you don't have enough items. You can be trapped in a corridor, surrounded by bullets or respawn in a place where you can die in less than a second! There's also the concept of getting new weapons, which wasn't executed well. You have only one shot to get this weapon while a bunch of enemies home in on and shoot at you. If you die, you are transported to the next stage and the item is forever lost.
But the one thing that grinds my gears the most is that if you continue, you don't go back to the beginning of the stage like in the Gradius installments. If you pass a checkpoint, you're STUCK there until you either pass the level or shut off the system. In the Gradius series, continuing puts you back at the beginning of the stage, usually in a dogfight, allowing you to get your powerups back. In this game, they throw you into a situation where you can't get powered up as quickly, leaving you vulnerable to dying again.