<div class=header> <div class=headerrow> <div class=headercell> <div class=headerlogo> <p class=image><a href="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net" target="_parent"><img src="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/logo/hg101logo.png" alt="Logo by MP83"></a></p> </div> <div class=headerad> <script type="text/javascript"><!-- google_ad_client = "pub-5230184257141993"; /* HG101 */ google_ad_slot = "4961941287"; google_ad_width = 728; google_ad_height = 90; //--> </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> </script> </div> </div> </div> <div class=headerrow> <div class=headercell> <div class=headermenu> <a href="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/alpha.htm" target="_parent">Articles</a> | <a href="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/features.htm" target="_parent">Features</a> | <a href="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/books.htm" target="_parent">Books</a> | <a href="http://blog.hardcoregaming101.net" target="_parent">Blog</a> | <a href="http://hg101.proboards.com/" target="_parent">Forums</a> | <a href="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/about.htm" target="_parent">About</a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hardcore-Gaming-101/109837535712670" target="_blank"><img alt=" " src="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/facebook.png"></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/HG_101" target="_blank"><img alt=" " src="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/twitter.png"></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;<a href="http://ask.fm/hg_101" target="_blank"><img alt=" " src="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/askfm.png"></a>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.patreon.com/hg101" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/supportsmalla.png"></a> </div> <div class=searchbox> <form action="http://www.google.com/cse" id="cse-search-box" target="_parent"> <div> <input type="hidden" name="cx" value="partner-pub-5230184257141993:xfg3mydy24k"> <input type="hidden" name="ie" value="ISO-8859-1"> <input type="text" name="q" size="30"> <input type="submit" name="sa" value="Search"> </div> </form> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.google.com/coop/cse/brand?form=cse-search-box&amp;lang=en"></script> </div> </div> </div> </div>

<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Intro
Gradius
Gradius 2 MSX

Page 2:
Gradius II
Gofer no Yabou II

Page 3:
Gradius III
Gradius Gaiden

Page 4:
Gradius IV
Gradius V
Gradius Rebirth

Page 5:
Salamander / Life Force
Salamander 2

Page 6:
Portable Games

Page 7:
Solar Assault
Cosmic Wars
Other

Back to the Index


by Kurt Kalata - March 25, 2008

Konami's first original shoot-em-up was a little arcade game called Scramble. Released in 1980 and distributed in America by Stern Electronics, Scramble was a viciously difficult side-scrolling shooter where the player needed to guide a space ship through a series of increasingly difficult caverns, all while shooting fuels canisters to keep the vehicle in the air.

While Scramble saw a similar follow-up called Super Cobra soon after its release, the Gradius project started out as the actual "Scramble 2." But by the time it was released in 1985, the team around main programmer Hiroyasu Machiguchi (町口浩康) had taken the concept in a different direction. Gradius featured some similarities to Scramble - both were side-scrolling, both featured a bombing attack that allowed the ship to attack enemies on the ground, and both featured a checkpoint system where the player would be sent back to an earlier point in the level after losing. However, the need to refuel the ship was ditched, and the expanded memory allowed for a wider variety of levels and numerous weapons. And with this, Konami revolutionized the shoot-em-up genre.

The main ship of the Gradius games is the Vic Viper, colored in blue. (The companion ship which appears in a few games, the Lord British, is a similar design, except it's colored red.) Unless it has a shield equipped, a single hit is enough to destroy it. Combined with its relatively slow scrolling and checkpoint based system, these aspects make Gradius very similar to Irem's R-Type, released two years later in 1987.

Each level in Gradius usually consists of three segments. The first is the navigation segment, which consists of a non-descript outer space background and a number of simple enemies. These are meant to allow the player to regain power-ups between levels. The second segment is the actual stage. Each level in Gradius has some kind of theme to it - a cave level, a fire level, a plant level, a biological level, and so on. The final segment is the boss. After defeating it, the stage will usually fade into the background, and the navigation segment for the next level starts.

Each of the Gradius games have a number of recurring elements. The most prominent are the Moai heads, based on the weird statues from Easter Island. Almost all of the Gradius games feature a stage filled with Moais, shooting little rings at you from nearly every angle. Most of these usually cap off with a fight against numerous gigantic Moais.

However, the most prominent boss is the Big Core, which looks like this:

In the original Gradius the Big Core is the only boss, which is repeated at the end of almost every stage. The weak point is a core in the middle of the ship, guarded by a small series of barriers. After shooting through the barriers, one can eventually damage the core, which makes it turn shades of red before it explodes. Nearly every major enemy ship in Gradius has some variation of this, and many of them have multiple cores. This is where the famous Gradius catchphrase "Shoot the core!" comes from - it's a friendly bit of advice shouted by an unseen narrator. A recurring trend in the Gradius games is a defenseless last boss, which will sit and maybe shoot a few projectiles at you, but can easily be destroyed without much effort. Most of the endings are the same as well - the Vic Viper escapes from an exploding mothership or planet and flies off to safety, while the credits begin to roll.

The most unique element of Gradius is the power-up system, which allows you to customize your weaponry. Certain enemies - usually marked in a different color - will drop little orange capsules. Grabbing one of these will activate the power meter, which looks like this:

Each collected capsule advances the power meter by one step. At any point, the player can activate the highlighted item, and the power meter resets. Each Gradius game usually has the power meter set up in the same manner. The first is the Speed Up, which obviously makes the ship faster. The second is the Missile, which fires a missile projectile - usually upward or downward - which can be used to hit enemies that your regular guns can't hit. In the arcade games, Missiles are fired by a separate button, but in most of the console ports the standard Fire and Missile attacks are assigned to the same button. The Double weapon fires in two directions simultaneously. In the original Gradius, one shot will fire straight forward, another at an upward angle. It's weaker, with a lower rate of fire than even the default weapon, but much more versatile. The Laser is a powerful weapon that shoots straight forward, but can usually tear through multiple enemies and do quite a bit of damage to bosses. The Option (in recent games called Multiple) summons a little glowing ball that shadows the movement of the main ship and provides extra firepower. In the arcade games one can have up to four options, essentially quintupling attack power. When there are too many Options, however, the game may spawn an "Option Hunter" that tries to rob them. The "?" ability is actually a Shield, which equips two orbs in the front of the ship, allowing it to absorb a few frontal hits. Every Gradius game after the first one features a variety of different arsenal payloads, option formations and shield types, allowing for a huge variety of configurations.

The genius of the power meter system is that it allows to prioritize the weaponry to suit one's individual playing style. Some people might want to play it safe and try to get the Shield as soon as possible, while others may want to take a risk to equip themselves with Lasers and Options. Sometimes certain areas are easier with the Double weapon, so switching systems in between can be helpful.

A model of the Vic Viper from Gradius IV

However, it does lead to a problem unofficially known as "Gradius Syndrome." When the ship is fully powered up, the game tends to be pretty easy. It can still be easily destroyed if the player is not careful, upon which it loses all weapons and starts the segment with nothing. With the standard issue weapons the ship is extraordinarily weak, and some areas prove far too difficult to start this way. It feels a bit weird and unbalanced, but it's actually part of the fun. A huge amount of the challenge comes with wiggling one's way out of sticky situations without the benefit of extra weapons, and slowly rebuilding the arsenal. This is especially true with boss battles, because one never gets the opportunity to completely rearm oneself after getting killed. There is a loose "rank" system, where enemies fire faster and more numerous bullets based on how many weapons are activated, but it never quite manages to restore the balance.

Gradius also has a unique musical style. The original arcade game features a very upbeat and peppy soundtrack, which is fairly memorable despite the ancient synth. Most of the subsequent games keep this style, which contrats to the darker, rock or techno inspired soundtracks found in most shooters.

Gradius began in the arcades, and the games can get mighty difficult. Nearly all of the titles have been ported to the home consoles, and they're usually rebalanced so those with less than superhuman shmupping skills can actually stand a chance. There are five officially numbered entries in the series, not including three portable games, one "side story" for the PlayStation and the Rebirth episode on WiiWare. There are also a few exclusive releases for the MSX home console, which bring some unique ideas to the table. In addition to the main Gradius series, this article also includes a look at the spin-off Salamander games, and some other one-shots. The other spinoff, Parodius, is detailed in another article.

Thanks to ReyVGM for his help on the mobile games and Salamander MSX, Splatter from the forums for some corrections, and Carlo Savorelli for providing the Salamander anime.

Scramble (Arcade)

Gradius (Arcade)

Gradius II (PC Engine)

Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)

Gradius IV (Arcade)

Gradius V (PlayStation 2)

Solar Assault (Arcade)


Gradius (グラディウス) / Nemesis - Arcade, NES, MSX, PC88, Sharp X1, X68000, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, PC Engine, Saturn, PlayStation, Windows, PSP, NDS, Wii Virtual Console, 3DS eShop (1985)

European Arcade Flyer

American NES Cover

VS Arcade Flyer

Japanese Famicom Cover

The original Gradius has seven stages - a cave level, a level filled with little red dots, another cave level, a moai stage, an outer space stage considering mostly of pulsing organic meteors with huge tentacles, a strange level that feels almost like a spider web, and the final base. At the end of each level, you always face the same enemy - a gigantic space ship that moves up and down, only stopping to fire its lasers. In comparison to the later games, Gradius is pretty barebones, especially with its limited weapon selection. However, the level design is still pretty solid, and it's difficult without being frustrating, so it's still quite playable. The graphics are excellent from a game from 1985 - it doesn't hold a candle to R-Type, but that came more than two years later. The music is catchy, but the blippy synth of the arcade version is a bit harsh on the ears. It's also pretty difficult, seeing how it doesn't alllow you to continue at all after losing all lifes.

The NES port of the original Gradius is surprisingly well done. The graphics have taken a hit, and the end-level bosses needed to be shrunk down, but otherwise it's about the same. The chirpy music and sound effects aren't great, but they're about on par with the arcade game. However, since the NES can't handle too many sprites, you're only allowed two Options instead of four. Furthermore, the levels that scroll vertically, like the Moai stage, are now fixed so you can't move up and down. The Japanese version features various little messages (written in half-English) after completing a full loop of the game. There was a special version released for the Famicom in Japan, called Gradius Archimedes Hen. This is a special promotion cartridge that was a tie-in with a ramen company. It's the same game, but all of the power up capsules have been replaced by floating bowls of noodles. Gradius also appeared as a .Vs cabinet in the arcades. This version has (limited) continues, making it a bit easier to get to the end. The NES version was also released on the Wii Virtual Console and 3DS eShop.

The MSX version suffers from the same issue as all of the other shooters for the system: The sprites move smoothly, but the scrolling is incredibly choppy, which makes it hard to judge the speed of projectiles. It makes the game harder than it really is, and can be quite headache inducing. It also suffers from the same restrictions as the NES version - miniaturized bosses, limited Options and no vertical scrolling in certain stages. It also adds an extra level, which takes place in a graveyard. If you stick a Twinbee cartridge in the second slot, the Vic Viper turns into Twinbee. Additionally, this is the first game in the series that lets you strengthen the weapons by selecting them twice from the power meter. The standard PSG music is about the same as the NES version, but the SCC enhanced music is excellent. It's still the best computer version altogether. The numerous other home computer comparisons for the Commodore 64, the PC88, the Amstrad and ZX Spectrum are all pretty bad.

The PC Engine version is quite faithful, with graphics very similar to the arcade version, although everything looks darker for some reason. The music and sound effects have been improved, and are the best out of all the versions. It also features an enhanced version of the graveyard level found in the MSX version. The screen size has been reduced a bit to fit the status bar at the bottom of the screen, so it scrolls up and down a bit to accommodate for the lower resolution. The X68000 version is more or less a perfect conversion, but it features a slightly different soundtrack.

The game appears on several compilations as well. The Gradius Deluxe Pack (released for PlayStation, Saturn and PC), Gradius Collection (PSP) and Konami Arcade Classics (NDS) versions are pretty much straight ports of the arcade game, with the ability to turn off the original slowdown. The Deluxe pack does feature a piano rendition of the main theme when you beat the game. There's also a bonus CGI intro movie for the Saturn, PlayStation and PSP, which is the same in all versions. The DS version has full access to all of the dip switches, which is pretty cool.

Gradius was originally distributed in arcades using a bubble system, a magnetic cartridge different from the typical ROM boards. It order for it to work, it needed to be heated up, which is why certain versions display a timer when you begin the game. Many other early Konami arcade games like Twinbee also used this system, although it eventually failed and Konami went back to standard ROMs.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Hiroyasu Machiguchi

Genre:

Themes:


Gradius (Arcade)

Gradius (Arcade)

Gradius (Arcade)

Gradius (Arcade)

Gradius (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots


Gradius 2 (グラディウス2) / Nemesis 2 / Nemesis '90 Kai (改) - MSX, X68000, PlayStation, Saturn, PSP (1987)

Japanese MSX Cover

Japanese X68000 Cover

The first sequel to Gradius appeared exclusively on MSX computers. It's called Gradius 2 (or Nemesis 2 in Europe), not to be confused with Gradius II (note the roman numeral), which appeared in the arcades in the next year. It's a completely original game with a lot of cool aspects that don't appear in any other game in the series. For starters, it's the first game to introduce a plot into the series. For the most part, the story in Gradius has always been "Bad guys attack, some guy steps into the Vic Viper to destroy them." Now there's an intro cinema which introduces the hero, James Burton, on his quest to destroy Venom, the evil green bad alien dude. The MSX games also ditch the Vic Viper in favor of new ships - here, a star fighter called the Metalion takes the starring role.

Many of the Gradius mainstays were first introduced here - although there's no moai stage, there is a ruins level, a plant level, a biological level (which actually looks like you're flying through intestines) and a flame level. There are numerous bosses this time, although they tend to repeat on a couple of occasions. When you kill one, you're given the opportunity to fly into the core and enter the interior of the ship for a brief mini-stage. If you complete it - and you killed the boss quickly enough - you'll be rewarded with an extra weapon. If you get destroyed or were too slow, you get nothing.

A lot of the weapons are pretty cool - the Up Laser sends a small beam straight upward, which can be combined with the standard laser. The Down Laser is the same thing, just fired downward. The Reflex Ring is like a boomerang, while the Napalm Missile is like the Spread Bomb in the later games, exploding when it makes contact with an enemy. There's also a flame weapon called the Fire Blaster, although it's almost useless. All of your weapons can be upgraded by selecting the weapon twice, resulting in faster missiles or stronger projectiles. Some enemies also drop additional power-ups with various effects, including Enemy Slow, which briefly slows down time; the Option Ring, which will temporarily cause your options to rotate around you; the Vector Laser, which shoots out a power wall of energy; and the Rotary Drill, allowing you to dig through certain walls. This concept of additional power-ups outside of the regular power meter later carried on to the Parodius series.

There's so much cool stuff, but the choppy scrolling really brings things down. Also, Gradius 2 picks up a really lazy mechanic from Ghosts n' Goblins - after a certain point, you need to replay all of the stages again in reverse order before you reach the last level. Despite the choppiness, the background graphics are pretty cool looking, even if the color seems a bit weird, and the music is fantastic.

Gradius 2 is unique for many reasons, although ultimately it's the hardware that holds it back. However, there is a port of the game on the Salamander Portable compilation for the PSP, released only in Japan. This includes an enhanced version of the game with smooth scrolling and slightly improved graphics. It's not as nice as /i>Nemesis '90 Kai (see below) but otherwise it's the best way to play this game.

Gradius 2 also shows up on the PlayStation and Saturn on some of the MSX Antique Collections that Konami released. However, the MSX had a unique function where you could stick a different cartridge in the second slot for various effects. For instance, Penguin Adventure turns the ship into a penguin, and Maze of Galious lets you keep power-ups after dying. These easter eggs are lost on the compilations, but there's a special option to emulate them in the PSP version. There's also a beta version of the MSX game floating around the internet that has two completely different stages, including a cool Egyptian level.

Nemesis '90 Kai is an enhanced port of the MSX Gradius 2, developed by a company called SPS. It's a pretty faithful conversion, with enhanced graphics roughly on the level of Gradius III. Due to the more responsive controls and smoother scrolling, it's a much better experience than the original version. There are also two entirely new levels - an asteroid field and a waterfall stage. Unfortunately, it's never seen a port to any other system.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Designer:

  • Naoki Matsui

Genre:

Themes:


Gradius 2 (MSX)

Gradius 2 (MSX)

Gradius 2 (MSX)

Gradius 2 (MSX)


Comparison Screenshots


Additional Screenshots


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Intro
Gradius
Gradius 2 MSX

Page 2:
Gradius II
Gofer no Yabou II

Page 3:
Gradius III
Gradius Gaiden

Page 4:
Gradius IV
Gradius V
Gradius Rebirth

Page 5:
Salamander / Life Force
Salamander 2

Page 6:
Portable Games

Page 7:
Solar Assault
Cosmic Wars
Other

Back to the Index