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Space Shooters were all the rage in the 80s, and Konami wanted to get in on the action. After success in the arcades, Gradius was released in 1986 in North America for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Gradius would go on to spawn numerous sequels as the weird space shooter would stay in commission for over two decades. There are floating Easter Island Heads in space during this Gradius review. You’ve been warned!
The first thing I want to touch on is the fantastic artwork for Gradius. Back in the 80s and 90s, games really had to stick out with their covers because the internet was in its infancy and had few game sites where you could review opinions on games. Publishers had to attract gamers with their artwork and Gradius is top-notch. This looks like it’s straight from a movie poster with the beautiful space battle raging on. If I grew up in that era I would have picked out Gradius from the shelf for sure! It’s funny how some games had TERRIBLE artwork like the Mega Man series on the NES while others knocked it out of the park as Gradius did. Major bonus points for my Gradius review.
With no cut scenes to introduce you to the plot, I had to turn to the manual during my Gradius review to figure out who I was and what I was fighting for.
“The planet Gradius, a peaceful Earth-like world, is now under all-out space attack from their old nemesis, beings from the sub-space star cluster of Bacterion. The people of Gradius are in danger of being completely destroyed by the amoeboid Bacterions.
(What the hell is an amoeboid?)
To save them, you have just launched the prototype hyper-space fighter, the Warp Rattler. The entire galaxy awaits your duel to the death with the evil Bacterions.
Your objective is the Bacterion super fortress, Xaerous. To reach this, you must steal the enemy power capsules along your route and boost the Warp Rattler’s hyper-powers.
You are the last hope for the gentle people of Gradius! You will need all your courage and concentration to win. Get ready to blast off!”
So it’s typical that aliens have invaded or are about to and you must defeat their ships before they destroy a generic planet and civilization. Nothing special or unique here, move along.
There are seven stages all of them being filled with unique enemies. You might see a squishy blob, a robot that walks on the ground that shoots you, or the most common enemy would be a spaceship. After almost every level during my Gradius review had a “main boss” but all of them are the same and super easy to defeat. Shoot the core and avoid being shot at, these guys are so easy that Hellen Keller could beat them. One enemy that came out of nowhere, that made me think “the fuck?” was the Easter Island Statues that are just randomly floating through space and shoot circle shock waves at you. Seriously, what were the programmers thinking?
“Hey boss, I developed a few more unique spaceship enemies to insert into level 3, want me to program them in now?”
“No, more Eastern Island Heads.”
“Okay, but the ships have unique shields and fire torpedos. They can –“
“MORE EASTER ISLAND HEADS!”
Anyway, each boss was protected by a much harder sequence of events. There were volcanoes that erupted that were difficult to maneuver past with all the flying magma and hordes of ships that appeared out of nowhere. I really liked the power-ups that came throughout the levels. You would fly into one, and then you could use it or choose to wait to get the next one and add it to your arsenal. For example, there were speed power-ups, a shield, double guns, and a little fireball that followed you and mimicked your actions. BUT BE CAREFUL, there is a very good reason there is a phrase that goes “Speed Kills” because it does. I used one too many speed power-ups during my Gradius review and my ship became almost uncontrollable. It was so fast I could hardly navigate it through the tight corridors or the 40 lasers that were being shot at me.
Overall difficulty ranged from medium chaos that was manageable to near-suicidal corridors that took me sometimes ten tries to get past. The main level was the hardest part, if you could get fly through that you’d fight a boss and they were pieces of cake. Especially the final boss, who is a giant brain? You just shoot it once and the game ends with an “epic” cutscene of the base exploding.
The best part of my Gradius review wasn’t the gameplay or story, it was the soundtrack and music! It was a peppy eight-bit symphony that made me feel like the game was encouraging me on my quest. If anyone is really into eight-bit soundtracks, check it out on YouTube. Overall, I beat this game in maybe four hours of actual gameplay? Pretty short, but tough to beat throughout the entire game.
I first beat this game back in 2015. I started getting into retro gaming after college and wanted to try to simulate the classics the best I could. I purchased an NES USB controller and picked up an HDMI cord for my laptop. I don’t have a Nintendo so NES games I play on an emulator, shhh don’t tell Nintendo! I know it’s not the real thing, but it was cool to play Gradius with the NES controller on my tv. It was the first game I played with that setup and I’m happy I completed my Gradius review.
Gradius Review Score:
Gradius still has a small cult following and I’m curious as to why it hasn’t seen a release in the series since 2008 but back in the 80s, Gradius was synonymous with space shooters. It’s a fun game overall and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The boss battles were disappointing with the ease of them but the music is terrific.
Gradius scores a 7.4 out of 10.
What would you write in your Gradius review? Did you play Gradius as a kid? How does it compare to other space shooters and what’s up with those crazy Easter Island Heads floating in space? Let me know your thoughts and memories, I’d love to read them!
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