Whatever you do, dont listen to those wussbags at IGN who think the game is too hard, when its really, really not. Listen, I play a ton of SHMUP games so Im aware that my judgment is a bit slanted, but even taking that into account, this game has an almost perfect difficulty curve for everyone from beginners to advanced players and even experts, who will the love Score Attack mode with online leaderboards. Not only can you pick from 3 difficulties, you can set the starting number of lives from 3-9 which ensures everyone will be able to go deep in the game. Also, you have the ability to continue, so everyone can "get their moneys worth" and see the whole game.
Personally, I find many of the popular Japanese "manic" and "bullet hell" shooters to be a bit too "manic" and "hellish" for regular daily consumption - let alone mass appeal. You cant pass them without a near total memorization of the bullet patterns. Gradius subscribes to a different school, where with careful play you can possibly reach the 3rd, or even 4th boss on your first ship. I reached the second boss on my very first try after buying the game. He killed me, but it was really my fault for not dodging when I had plenty of time - not because I didnt execute some sort of pre-memorized balletic dance-dodge in the face of a curtain of glowing orbs. My final word on the difficulty of Gradius Birth is, if with all these settings and continues you cant find a way to pass the game, you probably just shouldnt play videogames at all - let alone 2D shooters.
Gradius Rebirth is an both affirmation of and a tribute to everything that made the Gradius series great. It takes the gameplay, bosses and levels of the early Gradius games and rearranges them in a new yet familiar way. The resulting game is a more balanced, polished, and refined experience than the first 3 games in the Gradius series. Gradius Rebirth goes well beyond emulating the vintage Gradius experience - it surpasses it in every way.