Gradius (NES)

Game Review

Gradius Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Corbie Dillard

Just keeps shooting

To say that the original Gradius was influential on the evolution of the side-scrolling shoot 'em up would be a gross understatement. When it 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 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 it 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 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 play this on the comfort on your Wii U GamePad, 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 (30)



aaronsullivan said:

One of my favorite games as a kid. I played the Nintendo version of this in the arcade I think. Did that happen that early? Anyway it looked perfect to me at home and I tried to get further every morning before the bus came. I distinctly remember getting to those things with arms. The slowdown was dramatic and adjusting to the sudden speed boost when they are destroyed is a skill.



Shiryu said:

I love this series so much... I wish they made a new one, but it will be very hard to beat Treasure's "Gradius V".



rjejr said:

I got excited when I saw the title b/c my brain mis-read it as "Gyruss". That was my favorite arcade game in college.

Corbie Dillard wrote a piece? You're like Santa Claus now, you show up once a year (Just the other day I asked another long time VC-Reviews reader what happened to you.)



Shiryu said:

@rjejr I have a feeling not even Konami remembers the game. And it truly is an awesome game, sit's really nice along with "Gradius" and "Life Force" as my top shmups on NES.



KeeperBvK said:


And I played the Sony version on my Xbox. Wait, what?
I don't think you've played the Nintendo version in an arcade. How would that be possible?



aaronsullivan said:

@KeeperBvK Actually it's more possible than you think. Nintendo released many games that had what felt like essentially the same hardware as an NES in them in arcade boxes. There was a series of Nintendo Versus arcade boxes that were linked together so you could play Tennis and ExciteBike against each other on different screens if I remember right as well. Anyway, there was a Gradius and the graphics were identical to the NES version NOT the arcade version that I've seen.

I remember seeing Castlevania in the arcade with the exact same graphics as the NES game except for color changes and they changed up the game a bit to fit arcades better. This was way after the NES release and I thought it was pretty weird even back then.

It's less about the Nintendo releasing it (I know it's a Konami game) and more about it being the NES version that I played in the arcade.



KeeperBvK said:


I knew of Nintendo's "Vs" labeled Arcade games, but I had no idea Gradius also got its own version and I couldn't imagine it to exist, because...it simply doesn't seem to make any sense. With an arcade version having been first, why would Konami release another later arcade version based on an inferior console port? Certainly, today a mind has been blown.
But yeah, I just looked it up, and Vs. Gradius really does exist, so I apologize.



aaronsullivan said:

Ah, that's it! It had the VS. in the title screen. It's so odd, I know.

It's funny too, because it, along with Super Mario Bros. helped make the NES feel amazing to me in that it was exactly the same as the arcade versions... only it was sneakily NOT the real arcade version I was playing in the arcade. Maybe that's part of the reason they kept those Vs. things going for so long.



nix said:

If might add to this that it is also on Nintendo's Playchoice 10.
This machine has a second screen which lets you select the 10 on-board games and gives various tips including the Konami Code.
Gradius is my favourite game.



aaronsullivan said:

@nix Thanks! That's the name, "Playchoice 10" that I was trying to remember before the "vs." thing. I totally forgot that had two screens! DS and Wii U precursor!



Relias said:

Wow... I was going to say how this brought back memories.. but then I remembered that I had not played the series until part 3 on the SNES... (It was my first game with Home Alone.. they were on sale for 12 bucks a piece.. so my Grandma and mom got me a SNES and those) Oh how much fun I have had with that game.. I think I am going to have to get this one..



arrmixer said:

One of mine favorite games growing up definite classic.... I was just obsessed passing the levels everyday after school



Giygas_95 said:

So, I have RECCA on 3DS and I've been considering this for a while. Is this worth getting if you like RECCA?



defrb said:

Gradius is epic, the opening tune is brilliant and the power up system in that time was futuristic, to be honest a 7 is when you totaly missed the hype

Top 5 shmup all time, if you dont like shmups dont review shmups ^^



DrSlump said:

I played the c64 version of this game and the arcade version as well. Do i wish to pay to obtain a copy on my wii u? I don't think so, this game is really old and 0.3€ symbolic fee is more than adeguate for it.



Cesco said:

I'd rather prefer to buy (again) its sequel, Gradius II / Gofer no yabou, or as we know it here in Italy - Vulcan Venture.



unrandomsam said:

I have rebirth. Don't get how somebody could think this is better.

The only NES/FC shmups I know that are still worth it are :

Crisis Force / Zanac / RECCA



tovare said:

One benefit of this release is that the gamepad feels closer to an Arcade stick when user on a table giving an ok rate of fire. I never got around to buying one of the proper fighting sticks for the wii.



Cripper said:

I have very fond memories playing this on an MSX computer and in the arcades. This NES version is ok but seems much harder to me. The sprites are bigger = difficult to avoid. PC Engine version would have been a better one to release it has the the extra stages I remember on the MSX and arcade quality graphics.



vicviper said:

PC Engine version is fantastic. The extra level is great. The chip music of the PC Engine release is excellent as well. The graphics are indeed arcade perfect, although the game slows down a lot in places.

I'm getting sick to death of these inferior and constant NES releases on both the 3DS & Wii U. Nintendo need to get releasing some interesting games from other systems that they haven't released before on the Wii.

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