Gradius V, like so many throwback shooters (see also Ikaruga and R-Type Final), mostly serves to remind me that I am not hardcore. I can’t talk in great detail about the new title’s place in the Gradius family tree the way that Eric Jon Rössel-Waugh does, and I certainly can’t proceed to critique his review in even more exacting historical detail like the folks at shmups.com.

Although I can’t do a detailed generic analysis of the game, I can certainly play it. Not very well, mind you; another disadvantage of non-hardcoreness (Hardcorelessness?) is that an already-difficult game like Gradius V becomes nearly impossible to beat without extensive use and abuse of continues. Level 7 in particular is just one long stream of deaths. After nearly 30 hours of playing, I can get to level 4 on one credit. I should be able to get past it — I’ve learned the patterns and such — but the claustrophobic, disturbingly organic spaces cause me to freak out and choke in some mysterious way. And yet I keep playing.

How is it that games that are so difficult and frustrating (perversely, Gradius V is probably one of the more accessible titles in the series) can be so much fun? What’s the difference between the kind of frustration that makes you quit playing and the kind that keeps you coming back for more?