Tag Archives: time travel

FGC #618 Body Harvest

SPACE STATION BODY HARVESTHelp me out here. I am trying to determine whether Body Harvest, a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998, absolutely needs a modern remake, or if it is a game that could only ever be a product of its unique time.

Body Harvest deserves the 21st Century!

Superficially, Body Harvest has a traditional videogame premise that could slot into any gaming epoch. Giant, vaguely mechanical bugs have attacked Earth, and it is your job to repel the invasion. Hell, that’s just Space Invaders! But the twist here is that you have the ability to 4-D travel along the timeline of their invasion, and you can battle bugs back in the far-off past of World War I or the far-flung future of six years ago (hey, 2016 seemed pretty advanced in 1998). And it isn’t just about slightly changing the background to match a setting, either, each of the four time periods featured in Body Harvest dramatically differ in the firepower, vehicles, or just plain people you encounter.

And that is the first check in our “please remake” column: this was Grand Theft Auto before there was a GTA(3), but with even more variety. Technically, this should not be a surprise, as Body Harvest was designed by DMA Design, which went on to become Rockstar, which was directly responsible for Grand Theft Auto 3 a scant three years later. You can see the exact gameplay with your little orange warrior skipping from car to tank that would be recycled for Claude hopping from… well… He got a tank, too, didn’t he? But, as much as Grand Theft Auto 3 and its descendants tried to mix things up with fun or interesting new vehicles, they still have nothing on rolling around in a Japanese Zero plane while splatting insects. The different time periods naturally lend themselves to a variety of vehicles, and Body Harvest deserves to have Adam grabbing a veritable Gran Turismo of automobiles during his 1966 trip to America.

Stay dampBut this also leads to a significant sign of Body Harvest’s times. There are multiple vehicles in every epoch… but they are all pretty much the same. A plane is a plane, a tank is a tank, and nobody ever likes to be railroaded into a boat. A modern remake of Body Harvest could actually make these vehicles feel distinct, as you better believe it would feel different to drive a Grecian jeep in 1916 versus an American luxury car in 1966. And the weapons? There is a mythical “sun shield” in early 20th Century Greece that functions exactly like a laser from decades later. Does that make a bit of sense? Nope. A game that was designed nowadays could truly make the gulf of a century of technology felt during gameplay.

And speaking of modern changes, you have likely heard that every franchise wants to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nowadays. Well, here is a game that was Breath of the Wild long before Link ever considered his first sheikah slate. The worlds of Body Harvest are huge, and they even follow a familiar pattern of “fog” obscuring the world map until you find and defeat a proper giant bug. Unlike a similar DMA Design game of the era, Space Station Silicon Valley, Body Harvest revels in its open world gameplay, and rewards the player with massive playgrounds when they unlock the epoch’s plane equivalent (usually a plane). Yes, the regions of these worlds work like “levels” with bite sized challenges, but the future tech justified “fast travel” between different areas reinforces how Body Harvest was definitely a game before its time.

What in blazes is thatAnd, yes, that means these “huge” worlds are 100% “huge” with the caveat that they are areas in a N64 game. Just like how the giant bugs scale with your lil’ space marine, so they do seem to be gargantuan, formidable opponents… that can barely move. In the same way that exploring a giant world needs a little more horsepower to craft a truly giant world, the enormous bug monsters would be a whole lot scarier if they were not hampered by a system that allowed them to move about as fast as a sloth contemplating the benefits of a reverse mortgage. The whole concept here is that bugs the sizes of buildings are wiping out humanity, so it is super important that these creatures are immediately perceptible as maddeningly enormous. Unfortunately, that makes everything but the basic drones effectively immobile, so a little more RAM under the hood could really add to the threatening bug realism here.

In short, everything that Body Harvest tries to do could be made better by modern technology. You can almost feel the game that Body Harvest could be if it were released in 2022.

But would it still be the same game if it were released today? Because…

Body Harvest is a relic of the 20th Century!

Want to know the number one thing that surprised this 21st Century Boy when playing this pre-2000 videogame? Adam the Orange Warrior can enter houses. In fact, you have to enter a house as part of the opening of the game, and making progress through the various areas all but requires stopping into people’s homes. And they are not just dialogue boxes hiding in houses: these are actual “maps” that include hidden items, health refills, and even the occasional puzzle. Some of the “ancient Greek” dungeons could be mistaken for Zelda areas, and some of the future “sewers” could be entire (terrible) games on their own. And they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore! You know that if Body Harvest were made a few years later, “somebody put the bridge up” would simply be a communications dialogue box, and not a house including a person. The “dungeon puzzles” would somehow be modified to be solvable without leaving your car du jour, and any sort of regional/epoch variety would be completely lost. Actually seeing and interacting with people in a game where you are trying to save said people makes a big difference. You are not rescuing random humans that fill up your “humans lost” meter, you are saving that guy that lives in that house over there. The one with the water barrel that fills up your health! He’s important!

This is a friendly placeBut that does bring us to the whole “different time periods” problem of Body Harvest’s design. To be absolutely clear on what happens in Body Harvest, every epoch also has its own geographic location. 1916 is Greece, 1941 is Java, 1966 is a generic city in America, and 1991 is Siberia. If you find some NPC you like in the first time period, sorry to say that you are not ever going to encounter that guy again. It is a shame, as one of the coolest things a videogame can do is play with time travel for the ever popular “plant a seed, watch the tree grow” experience that is generally impossible in actual reality (or at least far too boring). However, this also means Body Harvest straddles the line between “open world” and “levels”. By the finale of the 1916 area, you can go practically anywhere on that map, and maybe find a random laser component or two to make your life easier. But the minute you activate the boss of the level and claim victory? You ain’t seein’ 1916 or Greece ever again, boy-o.

And that is antithetical to modern day “open world” design. The benefit of Breath of the Wild is that, barring Link breaking his own legs while shield-surfing down a mountain, you can always return to the starting plateau. You can venture around the world in any order you want, and then venture backwards through that same world as you so choose. Cutting off areas by epochs? That is either going to mean there are places you can never return to; or, even worse, making “backwards” time travel a mandatory solution to puzzles. It is cool to see a world grow up over a hundred years, it is dramatically less fun to be told you have to scoot back to previous areas every other scene because someone programmed in backtracking puzzles. That’s the opposite of an open world! That’s a crap world!

It must stink down hereSo maybe Body Harvest is bound to its own epoch. Maybe we could never see such a game today, because too many modern conventions seem to state, “we don’t do that anymore”. Designing entire building interiors just to support random NPCs? An open world that is not an open world? Levels? Screw that noise. That is some 1998 wiz biz, and we are unlikely to ever see it again.

Or not? What do you think, humble reader? Could we see an ideal Body Harvest HD? Or is it never going to be half the game it once was in an effort to be the game it could be today? Past or Future? And does said past or future include giant bugs?

The world may never know. Then again, maybe we’ll see Body Harvest HD before Grand Theft Auto 6…

FGC #618 Body Harvest

  • System: Nintendo 64. It was nearly a launch game! … But then some stuff happened.
  • Number of players: Adam Orange must fight a hundred years of giant bugs all alone.
  • Where in time is giant bugs: Most of the epochs are just an excuse to pal around in familiar settings of the last century, but the modern level in Siberia is either a tremendous diss to Russia, or an excuse for a zombie level. Or both! Siberia’s military facility (?) is lousy with all sorts of modern armaments, but it also has a severe nuclear zombie issue. Maybe it is supposed to be a Chernobyl reference? The dangers of modern technology? Whatever. Point is that it is a really weird final “real” level, and maybe speaks to the developers getting bored about 80% of the way through their own idea.
  • I do not like it hereAn end: The finale is, as was the style at the time, a level that forsakes everything that made the game great, and just an excuse to zoom around an alien asteroid in a homicidal hovercraft. At least you used the hovercraft in other levels/battles, so it is not completely out of left field; but it is still a sad excuse to not have a final “future” level with more interesting future vehicles. And then you kill a giant cockroach that is also your brother. Real Shakespeare s%&# right there.
  • Filthy Cheater: There are also a variety of cheats coded into the game, with some lifesaving (health refill, have all weapons) and some a little more on the silly side of things (have fat legs). Come to think of it, the N64 era was the golden age of ridiculous cheats. Or maybe we all just enjoyed big head mode a little too much.
  • Favorite Vehicle: For some reason, my dad has always liked the Ford Edsel. It is a weird little car, and my dad is a weird little guy, so it makes sense. So imagine my surprised when Edsels pop up as the first car available in the America stage of 1966! Despite the fact that the Edsel stopped production in 1960! Weird little choice, guys!
  • Did you know? Body Harvest was going to be an N64 launch game compliments of Nintendo publishing. And, according to a scant few interviews on the subject, Body Harvest was micromanaged by Nintendo of Japan quite a bit before the company outright dropped the title for theoretically “it’s too violent” reasons. DMA Design struggled to find another publisher, and Body Harvest was eventually released in its current (and only) incarnation. Worth noting? This inevitably caused a bit of a gulf between DMA Design and Nintendo, and considering DMA digivolved into becoming Rockstar… is there an alternate universe where Body Harvest stayed the Nintendo course, and Grand Theft Auto 3 is a Nintendo Gamecube launch game?
  • God bless America/bugsWould I play again: Maybe? Body Harvest is a strange game that is very much a product of its time, but it is a downright shame it never saw a follow up to its own unique flavor of gameplay. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the obvious descendant, but I could use a game with a rocket launcher and a few more giant bugs. So maybe I’ll try Body Harvest again for the experience.

What’s next? Looks like Valentine’s Day is next Monday, so we’re going to have a special Wankery Week article ready for the holiday of love. There will be cooking! Please look forward to it!

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Reflections are importantCastlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was released back in 2002 on the Gameboy Advance. It was the first Koji Igarashi-directed metroidvania to follow the wildly successful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and would be followed by the critically beloved Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow a year later. While many at the time lauded Harmony of Dissonance for being a step up from the non-canon, non-Iga-directed Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, in the years since, Harmony of Dissonance has gained the reputation as one of the “lesser” Igavanias. Nobody seems to claim it is particularly bad, but the understood consensus is that you would be better off playing literally any other metroidvania in the franchise. Iga was still getting used to portable Castlevanias, guys, play one of the games after he found his skelelegs.

And that is a damn shame, because Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance has some great ideas that were never seen in the franchise ever again. Take for instance…

Juste Belmont is all you need

This guy looks familiarCastlevania stars Simon Belmont. Castlevania 3 stars Trevor Belmont. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood stars Richter Belmont. And then we got Castlevania: Symphony of the Night starring Alucard, and we only ever saw one Belmont in a headlining role ever again. Juste Belmont is that Belmont, and he’s here to chew bubblegum and whip skeletons (and he’s fresh out of bubblegum).

Juste Belmont plays like a Belmont. There is no gimmick here, no secret power that makes Juste a creature of the night just like his opponents. He runs. He jumps. He attacks with a whip of clearly defined length, and flicks its limp form around to block medusa heads at will. He can perform some of the “later” Belmont abilities, like the slide and backward dash. He even has a forward dash, because some weirdo gave the Gameboy Advance an L and R button. But, a few extra skills aside, Juste is familiar, and a clear descendant of Grandpa Simon (and maybe the old man that trained Richter a few decades later).

And in the friggen Castlevania franchise, it is nice to play as a Castlevania protagonist.

You could claim there is a clear dichotomy between Simon-like protagonists and Alucard-like protagonists in the Castlevania franchise. Soma is an Alucard. Shanoa is an Alucard. Castlevania-wannabe Miriam is an Alucard. But claiming there are only two options is reductive. John Morris of Portrait of Ruin is very close to being the typical Belmont, but there is a lot more nuance and variety to his moveset. Or, put another way, there is no way Juste Belmont could ever turn into an owl. It may be a result of the presence of Charlotte, but, one way or another, John is no Alucard, but he certainly is not a straight-Belmont, either.

And having a 100% Belmont on the team makes for a different, unique game. Juste eventually gains a “super jump” to traverse long vertical passages, but, for the majority of his adventure, he is stuck with little more than a regular Belmont arc jump. And that changes the castle dramatically! There is no expectation here that you will eventually be able to fly into narrow passages as a bat, or “mist” through glass windows. Juste is stuck with legitimate keys-as-keys, and a castle that could reasonably be traversed by a human on foot. And that’s the rub! Belmonts are humans, and that appropriately restrains the Castle to something that is never going to require reversing gravity or filling in map squares by bumbling around as a wolf.

It is nice to be human sometimes and know that castle completion is not tied to some esoteric ability you will find five feet before Dracula. HoD perhaps hampers itself too much with its human protagonist, but a more thoughtful sequel could use this “limitation” to open all sorts of doors.

But speaking of being a Belmont…

The Vampire Killer is all you need

Nice viewLook, I like variety as much as the next guy. I like finding peanuts and learning that Alucard must toss them in the air to get so much as a bite. I like earning the “curry” power, and forcing an ability-copying boss to chuck hot plates like it is his super power. I like there being two different fairies, one with inexplicable piano prowess. I enjoy the sheer breadth of nonsense “stuff” that appears in the Igavania titles, and I appreciate every time I find a new secret or ferryman skulking around in the shadows.

But, dang, sometimes I just want to play a videogame, ya know?

The thing about variety is that is causes choice anxiety. You have a sword, right? And it is fast and strong, but there is a stronger sword that is slower. Which is going to perform more damage per second? Which will allow you to quickly backdash away from danger? Which has the more powerful “arc” to blocking enemy fireballs? They have elements, too? So is the holy sword going to cut down all these undead foes, or are some of these monsters supposed to be resistant to the light of God? Is this one of those franchises where fire beats water, or the opposite? Thunder do anything for anybody? I have a fast, lightning-based sword, but is that going to do zero damage to rocky enemies? Am I thinking of Pokémon again?

Then there’s Juste. Juste doesn’t have to have a brain in his head, because he has a whip in his hands.

The Vampire Killer is supposed to be the greatest Dracula murderer of all time. It was all Simon, Trevor, and Richter ever needed. Juste wields this same weapon, but is allowed to have a little customization. With the right item, it can shoot fireballs like Christopher Belmont, change elements for weakness hunting, or just plain upgrade to stronger versions like back during the Quest days. In general, it is linear progression with the tiniest bit of customization for particular circumstances. And that’s great! You don’t have to spend the rest of your day worrying distinguishing between +1 Pow or +1 Speed when “have whip” is all you need to know. There is joy in finding the secret sword that makes farting noises when it hits skeletons, but there is also joy in not having to worry about your equipment screen, and ignoring any worrying about bringing the wrong hammer to a guardian fight.

Sometimes, the Vampire Killer is all you need… and that never happened in a 2-D ‘vania again.

And on that note…

Mundane Monsters are all you need

Prior to Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon introduced the concept of particular monsters dropping unique abilities. After HoD, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow pioneered a system whereby literally every monster dropped some kind of attack, ability, or upgrade. This became the standard for Castlevania titles going forward, and now it seems completely normal to fight mermen over and over until you can breathe underwater.

Harmony of Dissonance made no such attempt at having a wholly unique “ability drop” for every monster lurking around the castle. And, not coincidentally, Harmony of Dissonance also included this creature:

Creepy Crawly

Now, I’m not saying that when you grant every monster a unique, obtainable ability, you lose the chance to make some gigantic weirdos that have nothing to do with “can throw spear” or “+2 Con”, but… It does seem like more than a coincidence that we never saw that dude again.

Nobody wants to grind a hundred skeleton spiders.

Two Castles are all you need

Out and inCastlevania: Symphony of the Night turned the franchise on its head by including an entire hidden castle in addition to the “traditional” solitary sanctuary of Dracula. Later titles would either stick to one large castle (the Sorrows, Bloodstained [which we are still claiming is a Castlevania]) or one castle plus a number of “level” areas (Portrait, Order of Ecclesia). Never again did the franchise try two separate, but similar, castles.

And two castles are the exact right number of castles to have!

The concept of a “dark world” works similarly to time travel in many videogames. In short, you have two distinct areas, but they influence each other in interesting ways. In the time travel adventures, you can usually affect change in the past that dramatically impacts the future. The classic “fill a lake in the past, see a future where a desert becomes a forest in the future” dichotomy serves as an easy example here. Similarly, you can have “light/dark world” situations wherein one area is a funhouse mirror version of another area, but making changes to one “castle” can drastically impact the other. The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past or Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver are the classic examples here, but many videogames utilize these dual worlds to create exciting scenarios and save on assets. An evil mirror world is fun and economical!

Unfortunately, for having two castles (both distinctly noted as being formed from two differing minds), Harmony of Dissonance whiffs on doing anything interesting with the concept. Whether there was ever meticulous thought put into the differences between the “normal” and “chaos”-based castles is irrelevant, as the end result is a castle that is effectively double the size, but with very few actual parallels. Yes, you might find some similar or “reference” monsters in comparable rooms. Yes, you are likely to see a few more deadly monsters or blood-red sunsets in the “bad” castle. But, beyond a few extremely basic “wasn’t this room a little different over there” situations, this is a complete waste of a brilliant idea. Harmony’s two castles could be so much fun in a different, more considered game.

This is funAnd that is the tragedy of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance: there are a lot of appealing ideas here, but they ultimately add up to an experience that is aggravatingly rote. With proper budget, drive, and familiarity, a direct sequel to HoD’s ideas could be one of the best titles in the franchise. As it is… well… Let’s just say that Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow keeps getting paired with HoD in collections, and it is obvious which game you should play.

(And in case you’re curious, it is the one that actually had its own sequel.)

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

  • System: Gameboy Advance on two separate occasions! Later, we had a WiiU release, and now it is on modern systems thanks to the latest Castlevania Advance Collection.
  • Number of players: This Castlevania quest is even more solitary than usual. Do you learn that weird shopkeeper’s name? That seems like it should be important! Guess we are sticking to one player.
  • Story Time: Props to HoD for featuring almost exclusively two characters: Juste, and his frenemy Maxim. Literally no one else matters in this story of childhood friends having occasional spats over kidnapping other childhood friends, and that kind of laser focus on the task at hand is great in a Metroidvania. I guess Death gets to squeeze a word or two in, too? Who cares? That dork is a little too Strider this time, anyway.
  • Love this bossThe Other Hero: Naturally, Maxim mode is unlocked upon completing the game. And Maxim rocks! While the meticulous planning that went into producing this Belmont-based adventure goes right out the window the minute Mr. Triple Jump appears on the scene, it is fun to see how much of the castle can be explored immediately without a need for keys or teleporters. Give Maxxy a way to level up, and it would likely be one of my favorite “other” modes in Castlevania history.
  • Favorite Sub Weapon: Juste has distinctly Sypha Belnades genes, and can utilize magical books to powerup his attacks. Unfortunately, this skill is completely useless, and should be ignored. Sorry, Great Gramma Sypha, you cannot beat traditional holy water.
  • Favorite Boss: Speaking of Sypha, two Castlevania 3 bosses return in modern-ish form: the Skull Knight and Cyclops. Cyclops is my favorite in the game, as he looks so goofy compared to his original, menacing sprite. Skull Knight does get a rad laser, though…
  • Interior Decorating: Apparently, that “Furniture Room”, where you can collect various tables and candelabras and such to decorate one tiny cube in Dracula’s Castle is a holdover from an idea that was nixed during the production of Symphony of the Night. This would have absolutely made sense for Alucard, as he would logically have his own room in his father’s castle. But Juste Belmont? A man who knows damn well that castle is going to collapse seven seconds after whipping an evil count? He should know better than to put effort into trimming such a damned castle.
  • ClassyDid you know? The doors that Juste uses to travel between the two castles look just like the portals the Doppelganger used in Symphony of the Night. Does this mean Alucard didn’t kill a monster, but an alternate universe duplicate? Probably not! And don’t suggest that again. Alucard has enough guilt without potential murder-suicides!
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Or at least not for another few decades. I want to see the HoD sequel, but the actual game isn’t all that fun… particularly when nearly every other Castlevania would be a better time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Curses ‘N Chaos! We’re going to celebrate the Day of the Dead with a visit from Castlevania ‘n Curses’ old friend Death. Please look forward to it!

WRONG

FGC #559 Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

This article contains spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Also: Final Fantasy 7, for some reason. Also also: Rosebud was a sled. Now you know!

WeeeeCan a Zelda game be more than a Zelda game? And can a Warriors game be more than a Warriors game?

Today’s title is kind of special in the history of Gogglebob.com. By complete coincidence, this game was significantly previewed for the first time when I was just starting up that Let’s Play of World of Final Fantasy, and, if you follow that whole youtube playlist, you’ll hear our opinions on what the game could be, what it very much looked like it would be as of the demo/release, and our impressions once the game was officially available in its entirety. And that’s neat! There is an eternal(ish) record of what we wanted to see from a prequel to Breath of the Wild, and you can listen to our frustration as we slowly realized such a thing would never come. Disappointment abounds!

Though I suppose it is worth restating my initial position for the record, as no man, woman, or child should be subjected to hours of meandering World of Final Fantasy gameplay for the sake of a Zelda game. Long story short? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a sad, sad game, and it feels disingenuous to have a plot take place in this world (timeline?) and have it be… happy? Cozy? …. Survivable? If you somehow missed Breath of the Wild, here is its backstory: everybody dies. A century before the game officially kicks off, Princess Zelda of Hyrule heard of a coming calamity, and amassed an army of killer robots, Zoids, and at least one dick of a birdperson to combat the inevitable invasion of Ganon. Unfortunately, she forgot to update her mechanical masses’ security firmware before the assault, and the majority of her minions wound up working for the bad guys about three seconds into her brilliant plan. Thus, her Champions were bumped off, her kingdom got a fiery makeover, and her best knight bit the big one personally defending Zelda against her own rampaging tinkertoys. In a last-ditch effort to stave off a literal apocalypse, brave knight Link was stowed away to recover in an ancient shrine, Zelda sealed herself in the castle to stave off Calamity Ganon’s freedom, and her last remaining allies scattered around the countryside to hide and maybe become esoteric fetishes (“wears goggles” is too a fetish!). Link finally awakens in a world that has been permanently scarred by the Calamity’s nigh-victory, and must venture around this Hyrule infested with monsters to rally a whole new generation of heroes. He eventually, inevitably succeeds, but the cost is high: Link’s “old world” and friends are dead and never coming back, and, while there is hope for the future, the present still has an unruly number of laser robots puttering around bringing down property values. Also, depending on your speed run of choice, Link may have never put on pants, and that’s going to confuse Zelda to no end.

So, naturally, when a “prequel” to Breath of the Wild was announced, there was any number of theories on how that might go down. After all, the backstory of Breath of the Wild is one that sees literally an entire army of heroes completely fail. There are good times! And more specific spoilers!…

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

It's sticky
Beware the goo!