Okay, I have played about an hour of Ace Armstrong now, some Elite and some Rookie, and I can definitely say that Elite is on the level of arcade Gradius III; i.e., I can't reach the end of the first stage on Elite. My best scores are:
On Rookie, I got somewhere in the middle of Stage 2, enough so that I could see the chompy-chompy taking up about half the screen, but what really killed me repeatedly in Stage 2 was the fact that I could not tell what was an obstacle and what was harmless background. Thus, I don't know if I should be avoiding X or Y, and one of the two kills me.
In both modes, I found it nearly impossible to fire while trying to use the Recycl-O-Ray's suck function. If I did manage it, my rate of fire dropped to the point of being nearly useless, and more often than not, I would happen to let go of the O button by accident and thus render the entire effort in vain. I also tried to play the game with the PSP flat on a surface while I pounded the buttons with my index and middle fingers. This did not help as much as I had hoped, because my firing action was being performed primarily by my forearm, which meant I still had a chance of accidentally letting go of the O button.
I think the reason I was able to reach the end of the stage in Rookie while most people can't is that I can fire more rapidly than average. However, this was still a problem for me, because it shook the screen severely, resulting in several deaths from enemy bullets that I couldn't see due to all the shaking. This is why I wanted autofire! My rate of fire is likely what allowed me to survive even though I was almost never using the Recycl-O-Ray; I believe I was only able to grab a power-up at the very beginning of the stage (the first 3-way shot cloud) and at the very end of the stage (that final power shot cloud).
I think that, with a terrible lot of practice, I could probably reach the end of Stage 2 after dying enough times to figure out what is an actual obstacle and what isn't. However, I have no confidence in ever making it to the end of the game due to my inability to fire while sucking in a cloud, which the Laughing Jackal guys say is key to the game.
Incidentally, Rookie is significantly easier than Elite. I couldn't tell if there are differences in enemy placement mainly because I was killing lots of things before they came on screen in Rookie.
Update feature wishlist:
1. configurable controls; it would be nice if the suck button were separate from the Recycl-O-Ray fire button, too
2. autofire, at least in Rookie
3. slightly smaller hitbox; it's difficult to tell sometimes if something is going to miss you or graze you, and when it grazes you, you die (incidentally, I must also say I was a bit ticked off at blowing up on Stage 1 because I grazed a freaking shrub)
4. obstacles distinguishable from harmless objects (easy way of doing this: darken the harmless ones a little--speaking of screen objects, are the blurry foreground objects obstacles, too? I avoided them and probably ran into other stuff because of that)
I'm also confused about one of the power-up weapons. I've seen a 3-way shot, a power shot, a shotgun blast, and a fourth one which seems to do nothing. Seriously, I had a fully filled Recycl-O-Ray meter, no idea what I had sucked up, but the O button fired absolutely nothing, and so I crashed into the guys I was trying to shoot. What was I supposed to do with this fourth weapon?
As it stands, I agree with JeremyR's review score. This is a game I will play to try to better my performance, but I don't think I'll be able to enjoy it. :( Doing well for me in this game takes too much luck (not accidentally canceling the suck function, not accidentally getting grazed by a bullet that I may not see due to the screen shakes, not accidentally running into an obstacle that I don't know is an obstacle) and not enough of my actual skill. Mind you, I still like the game, with its unique style, decent level design (that I have seen), and interesting bosses (the one that I have seen), but it's bittersweet.
I would really like to see how well a true shoot'em-up master performs on this game, though. Maybe all I need to do is watch that video. . . .
Edit: Okay, I've watched the video. Hadn't realized it only shows Stage 1, which is what I can already do. However, I have no idea how you're able to fire at that rate while sucking in a cloud (incidentally, I fire at about twice your standard rate).