theuselessgod's Gradius (Nintendo Entertainment System) review

No continues? Bring it on!

The Short


- Often considered the founder of side-scrolling shooters and, by consequence, the shmup genre

- Fun, difficult space shooter

- Decent graphics and a variety of power-ups and choices

- First instance of the Konami code

- Spawned a long line of great sequels


- Music was good but hardly up to the level of Lifeforce

- Doesn't have infinite (or any) continues and only three lives. What the heck, Konami?

- Can have frustrating checkpoints

- Can prove to be very hard, especially some early bosses

Are you ready to shoot in space?

The LongWhen someone talks about horizontal shooters, chances are they are thinking about one of the Gradius games. Technically a sequel to Scrambler (Konami's first attempt at something similar to this), Gradius basically put space shooters on the map with its side-scrolling, power-up grabbing, enemy killing madness. It was obviously not the first of these games to do so, not by a long shot, but for most Gradius was their first real encounter with the genre. It spawned a load of sequels and spinoffs (including the fantastic Lifeforce) and has certainly cemented itself as a place in history.

Oddly enough, however, I never actually played this game until just recently. I spent a ton of time on Super R-Type on the SNES, and obviously Lifeforce among others, but the original Gradius seemed to slip by. After playing through the game quite a few times I found I really enjoyed it, but only to a point. While I can see the history here, and the gameplay is solid even to this day, Gradius still has some minor annoyances.

You're gonna need that shield.

Gradius is your standard shooter fare. The screen scrolls to the left, bringing with it enemies and obstacles, and you have to survive to the end. This game solidified the series' "tier powerup" system, where each powerup bumps what you can get up a notch. You choose when to "cash in" at any time, from a simple ship speed boost to a powerful option (or three) that follow you around and shoot. It's a fantastic system that presents the game with a risk/reward type of deal, making one have to decide if it's worth diving into danger for the final powerup before getting another option or just leaving it be.Gradius also has all the same powerups as it always has. Speed, split-Missiles for ground enemies, double (which is two shots, replaced by Wave in Lifeforce), a piercing Laser, Option, and a Shield. Again, the fact they reused these for almost every game to follow proves it was a good enough system, and I agree.

Missiles are necessary to survive.

Gradius isn't a very fast-moving game, nor is it one to overwhelm you with bullets or enemies (read: it isn't a bullet hell). However, Gradius can still be quite difficult. You have to first strike a balance in your Speed Up power ups; not enough and bosses will move and shoot to quickly too dodge, too many and you'll move so quick you'll lose control. Another annoyance is that the game can be quite difficult; one single mistake and its over, be it bumping the ground or getting shot.But honestly, the thing that bugged me the most about this game is something I've complained about before: not having any continues. This is getting old, but it bears repeating: I bought the game. I'm not in an arcade, punching quarters in. There is no harm in letting me continue forever. Some games limit continues, which is annoying but at least it's an option. Gradius has no continues whatsoever. Three lives, and you are finished. frustrating, to say the very least. You essentially have to one-coin the whole game.

THE WORLD HAS GONE CRAZY. Also, Easter Island heads!

Luckily, the game is one of the first uses of the Konami code. Pause during gameplay and punch it in (if you don't know it, I'm not typing it here for you) and you'll pop out all powered up (except double and laser), with three options, a speed boost, missiles, and the shield. The catch is you can only use this once per game, so screw up and your cheating days are over. Like most Gradius games, if you get fat enough early on the difficulty of the game drops tremendously, though losing everything can quickly turn it from a cakewalk to an impossible difficult task. It's this sort of difficulty spike that really bothers me about Gradius. To be fair, Lifeforce was similar (though I don't think the difficulty switch between fully equipped and naked was as stark) but with infinite continues and the Konami code giving tons of lives, I was fine with it.

Seriously. Missiles.

Graphically, Gradius looks very good. It's a far cry from the arcade release, but it's still very solid despite having a hefty amount of slowdown when stuff gets crazy (like all shooters on the NES). I always liked the ship animations in the games, how it changed when you panned up and down. Really think that's always a great touch.Music is decent but I honestly don't remember any of the songs. Maybe it's because I only recently played through this game a lot, but I found other shooters (especially Lifeforce) to be much more memorable. It isn't bad, but it's hardly a revelation.

The first boss is really obnoxious without options.

To be completely frank, the lack of continues in Gradius really rubs me the wrong way. While I can certainly see the appeal in the challenge of beating Gradius without cheating and with only three lives (and I'm certain there are plenty who know the game well enough and can pull it off easily), I would have at least appreciate the option to continue (that wasn't a power-up pun. I promise.). Still, if you like a rather ruthless space shooter with a crazy difficulty jump, Gradius is certainly worth looking for. Though I personally prefer Lifeforce in almost every area.A classic that is still an extremely solid and fun game, if a bit frustrating. Three out of five stars.


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