Salamander Portable: Gradius 2 (PSP)

(Review archived from January 4, 2019)

This is the tale of two reviews, one which addresses the base game of Gradius 2, and another which speaks to this specific port of the original MSX title. In terms of the game itself, Gradius 2 is … fine … I guess. It expands a bit on the arcade game, but these improvements tend to be small and incremental. Particularly when one considers that this game was released after Salamander, which actually was a radical and exhilarating departure from the Gradius formula, Gradius 2 just feels a bit underwhelming by comparison. It does introduce some lore to the series in the form of sparsely interspersed narrative scenes. I have no idea whether this game is considered ‘canon’ to the Gradius universe, nor am I certain that Gradius is in dire need of an established canon, but I’m a sucker for story elements, so the effort was appreciated. This game also introduces some new variations on the classic Big Core boss, which of course is a highly welcome addition when compared to the first Gradius title. Lastly the game features several hidden (albeit identical) levels offering the opportunity to gain powerful secret power-ups. I didn’t discover this aspect until later in the game, but the extra power-ups were a welcome surprise for tackling the late game stages! Beyond that though … well there’s not much to say about Gradius 2. It looks, plays, and feels like a Gradius title; it just doesn’t do much to invigorate the formula. Also there’s no Moai in this one, so that docks 10 pts from its final grade right there.  But! The story doesn’t end there. Because after all, we’re talking about a port of an MSX game here, and in that regard this version is a smashing success. I watched some clips of the MSX version on YouTube in the interest of seeing translated versions of the cut scenes, and let me tell you … the MSX version is painful to watch. It exhibits the sort of jerky onscreen movement characteristic of so many action games on MSX. The reduced color palate sometimes makes it difficult to clearly discern the action happening onscreen, and to make matters worse, several onscreen objects utilize flashing colors. The whole thing just seems like a headache waiting to happen IMO. I highly suspect I wouldn’t have bothered to finish the game had I played it on its original platform. So for fans of the series, this PSP port is a godsend, particularly as a representative example of the base game. If you’re a Gradius completionist, you should probably give Gradius 2 a shot, and in that regard I give this port high marks. All others can safely pilot their Vic Viper towards bigger and better Gradius games than this one.






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