Gradius II review (PC Engine CD)

So there you are. You’ve invested £300-odd in a brand-new grey import PC Engine CD, you’ve bought a new table to put the TV on so you don’t have to sit with your nose pressed against the screen (what is it with the Japanese and their six-inch joypad leads?), you’ve scoured the ads to actually find yourself a copy of a game to play on it, and what have you come up with? Oh great, Nemesis again. Hardly the state of the art, is it? A 1985 coin-op shoot ‘em up, spiced up with different levels, but with the gameplay more or less unchanged. The words ‘money’, ‘waste’ ‘complete’ and ‘of’ spring to mind.

But wait. Nemesis (or Gradius if you really must) was a truly groundbreaking shoot ‘em up, and a brilliant one at that. This game is actually a version of Vulcan Venture, the third coin-op in the Gradius series, and it comes complete with the flaming fireball planets and colliding iceberg sections. Many of the levels will be familiar to anyone who’s played SNES Gradius III, but they’re all the better for a lack of slowdown. (There is slowdown, but bizarrely only early on when the big venus flytraps appear.)

The third stage features detailed H R Giger-style graphics, with a parallax background that fades in and out of the darkness

The only bugbear here is the slightly uneven difficulty – even on Easy, it’s terrifyingly hard at the end, and if you get killed (as you will), your chances of building up power-ups and making more progress are slim. But maybe that’s just encouragement not to get killed.

The whole thing is topped off with some fabulous CD sound, using Roland’s Sound Space system which, if you play with headphones on, gives you a truly frightening surround sound experience. The music and speech is great, and the whole thing’s still more fun than practically any other shoot ‘em up on any other system. It won’t win many technical awards, but for gameplay, you can’t do much better than this.

This review first appeared in E1, October 1993.

 

8
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