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If anything, ReBirth is a harmless non-canonical sequel, and the flaws are pretty excusable -- no matter how you look at it, this is a good Gradius. But, like all the other recent, deliberately retro-styled games, it's definitely meant for people who had some sort of connection to the series in their youth. For those people, it's worth the $10. For the average gamer who equates "shooters" with the first-person variety, not so much.
All nostalgia aside, the game does have five very well-designed, traditional Gradius levels, online leaderboards, and enough difficulty to keep determined gamers busy for a long time.
Gradius ReBirth is a nice blast from the past, but its retro design and punishingly hard difficulty limits the appeal. The 16-bit graphics tickle my nostalgia bone, but I'd also like to see what a modern Gradius would look like on Wii. And we all like a challenge, but this game is really too hard. The main problem is that the classic Gradius ship, the Vic Viper, is utterly useless until you've powered it up. That makes starting at any of your mid-level checkpoints a real chore. I would rather fly a modern Viper that feels less sluggish.
Having said that, shooter fans who've grown more accustomed to the more recent Gradius releases (the spectacular Treasure-coded fifth entry in particular) might find Rebirth too much of a step backward for their liking and the toned down intensity will likely overshadow any of the nostalgic feelings the game brings out. Gradius Rebirth is certainly a solid enough shooter and the trip down memory lane is fun while it lasts, but you can't help but walk away wishing that Konami had tried some new ideas instead of just rehashing the same formula. Having said all that, it's still hard to complain given that the game only costs a mere 1000 Wii Points and there's not really much else on the WiiWare service to choose from as far as shooters go. As a love-letter to a highly esteemed franchise this is a reasonable success, but it tends to leave you wanting a little more. Roll on Gradius VI.
If you're interested in playing a Gradius game and you can get your hands on Gradius V for the PS2 (currently available on eBay for $20-40), you'd be much better served doing that. It is just a better experience overall. But if you've got 1,000 Wii Points burning a hole in your pocket, Gradius ReBirth will provide a week's worth of fun. And the 16-bit graphics provide that retro cool that would otherwise make ReBirth just feel old.