Gradius 3
Box Shot
Gradius 3
Platform: SNES
Publisher: Konami
Designer: Konami
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Players: 2 (Alternating)
Published Date 1992
Reviewed by: Rob Strangman

Gradius III was Konami's official entry into the 16-bit era. It was their first release for the Super NES upon the system's US release in 1991. It was also the last console Gradius released in the US (the only other Gradius game released since then in the US was Gradius: The Interstellar Assault for the Gameboy in 1992). Since then, Gradius games have been released in Japan on a regular basis, but Gradius fans in the US have gone hungry.

Gradius III continues the war against Bacterion that was started in the original Gradius. Gradius III picks up several hundred years after Gradius II. Bacterion has once again declared war on Gradius, and once again, a lone pilot must fly the latest model of the Vic Viper - the Modulated Artillery Exalter (the M.A.X.) - into the heart of Bacterion space to destroy the Bacterion homeworld.

Gradius III's biggest improvement over the earlier games was the number of weapons that you could choose from to arm the M.A.X. with. There are two screens to select from: the Weapon Select screen and the Edit screen. The Weapon Select screen lets you select a preset group of weapons to arm the M.A.X. with, and the Edit screen lets you customize your powerup meter. There are too many weapons to list here; however, the Weapon Select screen and the Edit screen both show the names of the weapons and what they do. The powerup meter and system (pick up pods, so on, so on) remains nearly the same as the earlier games, but this time there is the addition of the ! box, which follows the shield meter (the ? box). The ! box can do many things, all of which can be chosen in the Edit screen (if you go with a preset group of weapons, it automatically becomes a Megacrush, which destroys everything on the screen).

There are nine levels to travel through on the way to the final encounter with Bacterion, as well as several hidden bonus levels. Each level has it's own unique look to it - from the Deserts of Doom (level 1) to Bacterion's Garden (level 6) and to the final showdown on Bacterion's Homeworld, which is a conglomeration of every organic creation from the previous Gradius games - the level resembles the first level of Life Force (complete with regenerating cell walls), and even the Antennoids and Amoeboids from Gradius are here.

The graphics are excellent - the levels are all beautifully detailed and the enemies are also done very well. There's even a kickass opening cinema showing the M.A.X. launching from it's mothership. The bosses look great! There are giant Moai heads and a mutant antlion, as well as several of the bosses from Gradius II (such as the Crystal Ship), which show up in the boss stage. Bacterion himself is very impressive - he even tries to speak to you, which is really cool. The music is also fantastic - it's too bad that there's not a sound test (the last level music in particular is VERY well done - it seems appropriate for the level). The control is perfect - everything controls without any problem whatsoever.

The only real problem with Gradius III would have to be the slowdown and minor flicker which appears in some areas, due to the SNES' sluggish processor. Gradius III was meant to run on a much more powerful system - aside from this flaw, however, it's as close to arcade perfect as possible.

One of the finest SNES shooters ever made, Gradius III is VERY highly recommended, especially if you love shooters in general and the Gradius series in particular (also highly recommended are the games Axelay and R-Type III: The Third Lightning). The only other problem (although not one with the game) is that we aren't getting any other Gradius games in the near future. Konami needs to wake up and realize that there is a fan base for Gradius games outside of Japan. After all, it's not very fair of them to get us hooked and then leave us hanging, is it?