A meteor containing a self-breeding DNA program impacts on Ramiles, the fifth planet in the Gradius system. The people are powerless to counter the onslaught of the Bacterion's biological weapon. Destroyed centuries ago, the Bacterion's legacy of evil rises from the ashes to suffocate civilization in the Gradius system. But also from the ashes there rises a legend that knows this enemy and has defeated it before. The Vic Viper flies like a phoenix to save the Gradius system once again.
Twenty years ago, Gradius side-scrolled its way into arcades, lasers and weapon upgrades blazing and cutting a swath for gamers around the world. Flying through the console systems from the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), SNES (Super Nintendo), Saturn and PlayStations, the Vic Viper now screams onto the Game Boy Advance in Gradius Galaxies by Konami. In an impressive showing for the GBA, Gradius Galaxies puts the arcade experience in your pocket, as long as you have good lighting. Good lighting? Read on, intrepid gamer'
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
First-generation arcade controls consisted of a joystick and two buttons. Subsequent versions on the various systems held to very similar layouts, with minor tweaks and additions. Gradius Galaxies returns to the classic arcade layout due in part to the basic layout of the Game Boy Advance. The D-pad retains the directional navigation for the side-scroller while the B button is the Shot/Missile and the A button the manual Power Up.
As with all Gradius games, the main strategy is not only to destroy enemy targets that appear on the screen but to avoid the enemy fire and ships like the black plague -- or greeting Aunt Gladys during the holidays, whichever sends greater terror down your spine. Sometimes the best strategy is zooming forward and not destroying every target you see. Destroying that specific type of ship that will give you that next power-up becomes a priority. Power-ups can be manually activated or your ship can automatically power-up to the next weapon. Before boarding your Viper, you must choose between four power-up combinations, each with some minor similarities and some major differences. Power-ups add to your defensive as well as you offensive weaponry and in the end, the right combination will decide your fate. Choose wisely, because you'll fly with this combination until you run out of CONTINUES.
With the combination chosen, Gradius Galaxies streaks through eight tricky stages of dodging ships and missiles, gun turrets, flaming lions, floating ice slabs and so on. At the end of each stage the stage boss appears, maybe as a flying Chinese dragon or floating Moa Head from Easter Island, that shoots deadly fire rings and bubbles. (The imagination of Gradius' game developers remains mind-boggling.) Defeating each boss takes patience and timing. On the other hand, you can just use the HINT option. If your Viper is stuck in a tricky section, choosing the HINT option gives an automated run-through to complete that section successfully. Then you can hop back in the Viper and play "follow-the-leader" from memory. Changing the various game settings can increase or decrease the difficulty, the number of Vipers at your disposal or change the button assignments.
If you are a veteran arcade side-scroller shooter, Gradius Galaxies will be "old-hat" and very familiar ground -- so familiar, in fact, that you will probably finish the game in an evening's sitting. The stages are not as extensive or complex as they could have been. More levels would have been nice. If you want a challenge, raise the difficulty setting to HARD and blaze through the mayhem. The HINT option is available to test your will power. Can you make it through the sections and Boss stages without using the HINT option? Sure, you can.
Overall, the controls are standard and quite typical of side-scrolling shooter games from the classic arcade years. The shoulder buttons (Left and Right) are not used at all, nor are they really needed. The directional pad and two buttons hearken back to the classic arcade games.
This game would have been an excellent candidate for a cable link option -- in strictly cooperative mode, of course. It would be fun to control your Viper while your friend's Viper moved independently on both screens. Crank up the difficulty and enemy AI and this game would have broken new ground. Sadly, the developers did not include any cable link options. However, the future holds many possibilities.
When they can be seen, the graphics are quite good -- very vibrant and rich in color with excellent detail and artistry on the bass stages. Each enemy is discernible and distinct in look and color. As the sun sets and the lamp lights turn on, the screen becomes darker, while graphic detail and color begins collecting in the center and the edges begin disappearing into blackness. It's an example of tunnel vision or GBA syndrome, a typical ailment of the GBA with its lack of a brightness control for several games. Yet there are many GBA games that work well in ambient light. Gradius Galaxies is not one of them.
The audio is an excellent port of the classic arcade. Keep in mind, though, that the classic arcade came out in 1985. There's nothing exceptional, ground-breaking or eyebrow-raising. For the ultimate time warp, put on headphones plugged into the GBA, have a strobe behind you and Christmas lights blinking around you and play the game. The sounds will help transport you back to the classic arcade hangouts.
Here are some instructions missing from the game's booklet:
Good Lighting: In order to play Gradius Galaxies_, the Game Boy Advance must be operated with natural sunlight streaming directly over either shoulder at an angle greater than 45 degrees. Artificial ambient light may not sufficiently supply the gamer with the ability to discern anything on the screen, no matter what angle._
Gradius Galaxies by Konami is a good game with a few minor setbacks. The first setback is the poor graphics quality when you use ambient light to view the screen. The second is the limited number of stages in the game, making a quick completion for the accomplished side-scrolling shooter. Finally, the possible temptation of using HINT mode for every section throws a wrench into the challenge and strategy of the game. The addition of a cable link would have given Gradius Galaxies that extra edge. Yet Gradius Galaxies also has its satisfactions -- simple controls and beautiful graphics, when you can see them. The eight available stages give a slight challenge but not enough to stump or stop a real gamer. Gradius Galaxies is a decent addition to a long lineage of games. The future of the series is still promising and still in the wings.