Review: Gradius Rebirth

Similar to 2D fighting games, there are two main types of fans of shmup games. The first group enjoys the challenge of developing the necessary skills to play the game successfully, while the second group is more nostalgic about the genre. Fans in the first group consider games like Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun to be the epitome of gameplay excellence, while those in the second group prefer classics like R-Type Final or Gradius V as their top shmup games.
I belong to the second group of gamers who enjoy playing shmups. While I have never come across a game in this genre that I did not enjoy, my personal favorites are the ones that were created before the “bullet hell” trend took over the industry. My love for shmups is rooted in my nostalgic memories of the past, which is why I hold games like Bionic Commando Rearmed, Mega Man 9, and Contra 4 in high regard.
With a yearning for nostalgic, pixelated visuals, I eagerly delved into Gradius Rebirth. While I certainly hoped for well-crafted levels and challenging foes, my primary desire was for the game to transport me back to the days of 1989, when titles like R-Type and Blazing Lasers reigned supreme with their captivating graphics, music, and gameplay.

Does the game succeed at taking me back twenty years in the past? On top of that, is the game actually any fun? Hit the jump to find out.

Gradius Rebirth (Wii)
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Released: March 9, 2009
MSRP: 1000 Wii Points

If you purchased a Wii primarily to relive the classic TurboGrafx-16/Genesis shmups, then you should forego reading this review and immediately purchase Gradius Rebirth. This game is virtually identical in style to the superior shooters found on the Virtual Console. This will undoubtedly be a positive aspect for many players.

Gradius Rebirth not only has the appearance of a classic TG-16/Genesis shmup from the late 1980s, but it also captures the essence of one. The opening cinema is filled with the same “Genesis does what Ninten-don’t” style that was popular back then, and it was so impressive that I had to watch it twice before starting the game. It’s amazing how the game manages to bring back old shmup story cliches from 1989, such as interstellar news casts, a hero who never takes off his space helmet, an alien scientist who advises the hero on how to fight other aliens, and the slow but deliberate departure of the player’s ship from its mothership with inspiring music in the background. All of these elements are part of the late-80s shmup aesthetic, and they are all present in Gradius Rebirth.
The nostalgia factor is strong in Gradius Rebirth, particularly in the first stage. It closely resembles the initial area of the original Gradius game, but with fresh enemies, level design, and a unique twist. Two machines, one red and one white, appear at the beginning of the stage, resembling typical enemy generators. However, they only emit red or white dust. Players have three options: avoid them entirely to maintain the stage’s original appearance, destroy the red one to transform the stage into a snowy wonderland, or shoot the white one to turn the mountains into erupting volcanoes. This approach highlights Gradius Rebirth’s goal of providing players with a familiar world to explore in a new and exciting way.

Overall, the game successfully delivers on its intended gameplay experience. It maintains the classic Gradius level structure, consisting of power-up collection, main level, panic section, and boss fight. The iconic Gradius power-up chain, including speed up, missile, double, laser, option, and “?” power-ups, remains unchanged. However, the game introduces new ships that utilize the power-up chain in innovative ways. At the start of the game, players can choose from three ships, with two additional experimental models that can be unlocked by meeting specific in-game requirements. On higher difficulty levels, certain stages may require a specific ship to complete, making it necessary to try out each ship at least once during the game.
The levels in Gradius are inspired by previous games in the series, but with unique twists to keep them fresh and unpredictable. One standout moment occurs in Stage 2, where players must blast through walls while dodging fast-moving enemies and collecting power-ups. This sequence is unlike anything seen in a shmup before and remains thrilling even after multiple playthroughs.

Regrettably, the game comprises only five stages in total (excluding a few hidden warp zone levels), which is notably below the average for a Gradius game. However, after completing it once, you unlock “Loop 2,” a second run-through of the game’s levels that showcases fresh layouts and more abundant and hostile foes. Although playing Loop 2 doesn’t entirely feel like a brand-new game, you’ll undoubtedly need to acquire new tactics and routines to progress through it.
The difficulty of Gradius Rebirth is worth mentioning. The game offers five difficulty settings, with three of them being extremely challenging and requiring hours of trial and error to beat. Even on the normal difficulty and above, Gradius Rebirth is tougher than most Gradius games. The ‘very hard’ setting seems almost impossible to conquer. To witness the game’s “real ending,” players must complete Loop 2 on normal or higher, which is an incredibly daunting task. To succeed in Gradius Rebirth, players must power up early and maintain their power-ups throughout the game. Losing a life means losing everything, which can leave players in a difficult position. Fortunately, the game allows players to start from any of the four checkpoints in any level once they have reached them at least once. Additionally, players can use the “Konami code” to load their ship with weaponry from any of these checkpoints. Without these features, beating the game would be an even greater challenge.

Gradius Rebirth is a game that emphasizes the satisfaction of accomplishing what was once deemed impossible. During my numerous attempts to conquer the challenging Moah heads level on Loop 2, simply surviving a few seconds longer than my previous try prompted me to pause the game, take a deep breath, and celebrate with a fist pump. The feeling of triumph from a few extra seconds of survival surpassed the gratification I’ve experienced from completing other games entirely. The game’s creators seem to understand this sentiment, evident in their inclusion of a feature that allows players to record and share their gameplay in Score Attack mode, as well as upload their high scores to the online leaderboards.
Although Gradius Rebirth boasts some impressive features, it falls short of my expectations due to the lack of a crucial element: two player co-op. While I don’t like to criticize a game for what it doesn’t have, it’s worth noting that many of the previous successful Gradius games included this feature. The absence of such a basic addition is a significant drawback for this game.

To be honest, I don’t have anyone in my vicinity who would be interested in playing Gradius Rebirth with me. My fondness for the game is somewhat of a fetish, and I don’t expect others to share my enthusiasm. However, I am aware that my love for the game is not solely based on its quality, but also on its style and the nostalgic emotions it evokes. Putting nostalgia aside, the game boasts five excellently crafted, classic Gradius levels, online leaderboards, and a challenging difficulty level that will keep dedicated gamers engaged for a significant amount of time.
Before I conclude, I must not forget to mention the exceptional soundtrack of the game. It is truly remarkable and worth the $40 price tag, even though the game itself only costs $10. The quality of the soundtrack is so impressive that some may argue that purchasing the game solely for the music is a wise investment.

Also, crab boss.