Holy ship, it’s the original Gradius!

Review Date: February 18, 2021

Release Date: March 1, 1986

Platform: NES

Publisher: Konami

Genre: Shooter

Anecdotes: I had to ask myself, “When hearing the name Konami, what games come to mind?” There are so many great Konami titles. The first that comes to mind for me is…going to be reviewed on February 28. I would imagine that Gradius would make a lot of Konami top 10, even top 5 lists, but I would guess about 5-10% of people would put Gradius at the top. It’s not that Gradius is bad; Gradius has five games in the series, plus some spinoffs. It more speaks to just how many quality games the company has released.

Description: At its simplest, Vic Viper has one simple rule to follow: Don’t let the ship make contact with ANYTHING other than power up capsules. If the Vic Viper gets hit by a bullet, runs into an enemy, or scrapes a wall, it blows up. Gradius’ Vic Viper is famously a one hit wonder (unless the shield is equipped), so everything destroys it. However, while Vic Viper’s defense is notorious for difficulty, the offense starts decent, then can get into some really cool things by collecting power capsules.

The Konami code is the only way to get all those upgrades this early.

For the story, I quote the manual: The planet Gradius, a peaceful Earth-like world [yeah sure], is now under all-out space attack from their old nemesis, beings from the sub-space star cluster of Bacterion. [Uh, what is sub-space?] The people of Gradius are in danger of being completely destroyed by the amoeboid Bacterions. The objective is to reach the Bacterion superfortress, Xaerous by stealing the enemy power capsules along the way and boost the Warp Rattler’s [better known as the Vic Viper] hyper-powers.

Positives: Konami was nice enough to include their famous code, and here, it gives players a shield, two options, and missiles. When I tried it out, it only worked at the very start of the game, so it can’t be abused.

Ugh. I really don’t want to face those things; can’t I just head in the other direction?

Negatives: Gradius starts off in hard mode and it only gets worse from there. I could have had 100 lives and I still wouldn’t be able to finish stage 3. Sure, it starts off innocent enough in stages 1 and 2, but by the third stage, I got this:

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Just after this, the Moai heads started shooting rings out like water from a fountain, the bullets were coming in from every direction, and I had to make sure not to fly into any rocks or Moai heads. Even with the shield, I couldn’t get through that.

One big flaw of the Gradius games is that one stray bullet can cost a life. When a life is lost, any power capsules used vanish, so the Vic Viper has to start again from scratch. That has the effect of causing players to lose even more lives very quickly.

Maybe I was spoiled by playing the later games, but there are no choices in how to upgrade. The Double only shoots up and right. The missiles only go down. There are only two Options. I get that it was what we had in 1986, but it just feels like the game is missing the flair the later games had.

While the rest of the game is harder than trying to find a parking spot at Wrigley Field, the boss is as easy as trying to find a parking spot at Comiskey Park.

Grade: D


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