Review: I've got 16 bits, but a hit ain't one.
While people are quick to slap the dreaded "casual gaming" label on the Wii, Nintendo's little system that could has also brought about another revolution to the world of video games: It made retro gaming cool again. From the wild success of the Virtual Console to the beautiful Mega Man 9
to the pending release of Punch-Out!!
, older games and "new" older games rule the Wii. Which brings us to this review of the WiiWare shooter Gradius ReBirth
Not a completely original game like Mega Man 9, ReBirth is closer to a remix of previous Gradius levels, enemies and concepts. For example, the first level of ReBirth is a rough recreation of the first level of the original Gradius
, while the first boss is a reworking of a boss found in Gradius V
. So, if you've played any of the previous games in the series, you'll know exactly what to expect from Gradius ReBirth.
But if you haven't, allow me to give you a crash course on the finer points of one of the best shooter series' to come out of the 80s. In Gradius, players control the Vic Viper in a side-scrolling space shooter. Enemy ships (or robots or mutants or giant Easter Island statues) charge your ship and you have to shoot them down. Some enemies drop glowing orange power-ups that begin to fill a meter at the bottom of the screen. Pressing 2 on the Wii Remote (Gradius ReBirth is played with the Wii Remote held sideways like an NES controller) allows you to purchase an upgrade that could be a new weapon, a shield, a speed increase or a "Multiple" (an indestructible that flies next to you and doubles your firepower).
And that's it. Fly through space, shoot down the enemies, blast the glowing orb that is each boss' weak point. It's a tried-and-true formula; however, in the case of Gradius ReBirth, it's a tad too tried-and-true. Gradius V for the PS2 was developed by shooter specialists Treasure, and they added a ton of little tweaks to the Gradius formula that make ReBirth feel old, rather than retro. For example, players could control the Multiples by using the left stick to move them independant of the Vic Viper and one of the shoulder buttons to freeze them in place. That kind of innovation is sorely lacking from Gradius ReBirth.
Also, the Vic Viper moves like a rock before you purchase any "Speed Up" power-ups. But then, if you purchase too many, the ship's controls start to feel a little floaty and it's not impossible to accidentally crash into the ground. Compared to the tight and responsive controls of Gradius V, this is a huge step back. Slowdown also rears it's ugly head in ReBirth and while it was cute when Mega Man 9 featured optional slowdown and flickering, it was still optional. Slowdown in a game designed for the Wii that looks like a Super NES game is just unacceptable.
Finally, while Gradius V had a fairly smooth difficulty curve, it is ridiculously steep in ReBirth, going from simple to controller-throwing hard in the space of a single level. Yet, the game's final level is easier than all of the ones that came before it. It makes no sense.
While ReBirth pales next to Gradius V, the game does have a few qualities worth mentioning. Its 16-bit graphics are beautifully realized and give a classic feel to the title. And if nothing else, I am a sucker for 2D graphics and talking head cinematics with accompanying text.
For all it's faults, the game is not a terrible side scrolling shooter. Once you learn the quirks of the controls and the slowdown, the game can be rather enjoyable. In fact, it's a perfect "lunch break game" as it plays very well in 30 minute chunks. Any longer and you'll get frustrated, but any less and you'll find yourself saying "One more game..."