Gradius (NES)

Game Review

Gradius Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Corbie Dillard

Dated, but legendary

To say that the original Gradius was influential on the evolution of the side-scrolling shoot 'em up would be a gross understatement. When the game hit arcades in 1985 it was lauded for its amazing level designs and simple, yet wildly playable, power-up system. This NES release was one of the first home ports of the game and has become a staple of the shmup genre for over a quarter century, so it's nice to see Konami still making the game available for the various download services, if only to remind more modern gaming fans of how things began in a genre that's been enjoying a bit of a resurgence in recent years.

You won't find a lot of fancy fluff in Gradius, but that's to be expected given the game originated in arcades during the mid-80s. What you will find is a host of lengthy levels, each ripe with enemy and terrain challenges that will still test any seasoned shooter fan. Your goal is simply to navigate your way through the challenges of each level and tackle the boss at the end of each level. And it won't take you long to figure out where the popular saying "shoot the core!" came from.

Gradius starts you off with nothing more than a standard cannon and pushes you to destroy enemies that drop power capsules. These can be picked up and used to level up your power meter, which soon gives you a wider range of cannon fire, not to mention a wealth of missile and speed upgrades. And while you can coast through the early levels with minimum upgrades, you're not going to want to head into later levels with anything less than the best offensive firepower you can lay your hands on.

While rather basic by today's shmup standards, you have to appreciate the simplicity of the play controls in Gradius. Most of your button mashing time will be spent on the fire button, with only the occasional press of the power up button to bring up any new weaponry at your disposal. Your ship is a bit sluggish at first, but this only amplifies how useful the speed upgrades are, especially once you begin weaving your ship in and out of danger.

Don't expect a lot of eye candy when it comes to the visuals in Gradius, as the game tends to stick with the basics when it comes to the scenery you'll be traversing. The vibrant colour palette does keep things exciting and there are some really cool bosses in the game to see — at least until they kick into action and force you to get moving.

The musical score is similar in that it uses the standard chiptune tracks that were used in the arcade release, but this is Konami, so there's a nice selection of musical tracks to keep you humming along even after you crash your ship for the thousandth time.


There's no denying that Gradius is beginning to show its age, but for gamers who grew up stuffing their allowances into coin-op quarter slots, there's nothing like taking a trip down memory lane and reliving the type of legendary and influential arcade experiences that Gradius still offers. Now that you can take it on the go with you on your 3DS, you have little excuse not to test your shooter skills and take a peek back to where the genre began to really take shape.

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User Comments (19)



DRL said:

Good review, Corbs! I'm definitely picking this up soon. Haven't played it in ages.



TheInvisibleTor said:

This looks way too hard. That's why I didn't get it in the first place.
but is it really that hard???



Takosuke said:

Just received my shipping stamp to get my 3DS repaired, this will be the first thing I download when I get the machine back.

This is very much the game that introduced me to shmups. When I first started playing it, I was stuck on the volcanoes for a week, until I realised you had to strategically place your options to protect yourself from the rocks. The game instantly opened up to me, and it became un-putdownable.

And I still play it. I think the simplicity is what does it for me. There is absolutely no filler in this game (despite those repetitive bosses, though they can be killed in seconds. And stage 5, come to think of it), and the level design is so approachable I keep coming up with new strategies. Having it on the go will be brilliant.

For those who worry about it being too hard, bear in mind Gradius uses a rank variable to determine how fast enemies are and how many bullets they shoot - Missile and Options add to the rank FAR less then Double, Laser or Shield, so prioritise getting those first. The higher the rank, the harder the game is. Also learn when to use Double over Laser (Hint - stages 3, 4, 7), and learn the secret locations for some free 1ups.



shinpichu said:

I own the arcade version as part of the Gradius Collection on the PSP. Neat game, too bad I suck at it. :/



ajcismo said:

Restore Point is your friend on this one. Instant download for me, but for those on the fence the review is spot on. 7 is a good score. Hopefully this means we'll be seeing Lifeforce down the road.
I really hope they put out more NES Konami games, that library is just loaded with really good stuff.



Raiko said:

I'm envious. Both Xevious and Twinbee, in the 3D Classics Collection, have eased me into a genre I almost completely ignored as a kid. Hope this comes to Europe soon!



Knux said:

I love this game, even though it's one hard SOB. Those d*mn flying rocks...



grumblegrumble said:

Yeah. It was popular back in the day because there was nothing else like it. Now there's too much like it.



FonistofCruxis said:

I might get this when it comes to Europe. It would be a good game to have on the go and the restore points will help.



Cesco said:

I always preferred Episode 2 (known as "Vulcan Venture" in Italy/Europe, and simply "Gradius II" everywhere else).
It's such an excellent game that I ended up buying it twice on both the Wii Virtual Console and on the Playstation Store (using a japanese account since -unfortunately- PC Engine games are not available on the european PS Store..)

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