Has destroying the core ever been so enjoyable?

Source // Arcade Museum

Anyone concerned that I am completely ignorant of video game history can breathe a huge sigh of relief as I can tell you now that I am aware of Gradius, that side scrolling space shooter with aaaalll the bullets, or lasers, or whatever they use.

Just because I'm aware of it though, that doesn't mean I've had the pleasure of playing it. I think I'm safe in saying I've played none of the Gradius series. At all. Ever. And don't be that kid who claims Scramble is part of the series, knowing full well I've had to play it as part of this 1001 list. A spiritual predecessor doth not a series entry make, and all that.

It's probably fair to say I've had mixed success with space shooters so far, but we'll give Gradius the chance to impress, as we should with all games.

Fun Times

Hhhnnoooughmygod this is incredible. I'm playing the NES port - seemingly like usual these days, so all hail Nintendo in the mid 1980s - and I'm knocked out. I wasn't expecting music, sound effects, quite pretty looking ship that moves all over the place, but only when and where I want...

I don't know why I didn't expect this. Gradius is a big name, I assume for the series, so perhaps I thought the first title couldn't have been that good? Then again, a series has to start somewhere, right? Usually with a great first or second title. That's what Gradius is, a great first title. Calling it now.

You pilot the Vic Viper through space. It's a familiar spacey view, with familiar spacey things coming towards you. Alien technology more than asteroids, but you get the point - enemies. Gradius speaks the universal language of enemies. Slow moving enemies, stationary enemies, waves of enemies in formation.

Like many games, it's one against all, and you're the one so you start shooting. The better you shoot - namely in terms of finishing off units of enemy ships without leaving any survivors - the more power-up icons there will be filling your screen. Fly into one and the power bar lights up. When I keep going on about games taking the titles from the past and adding something to make an entirely new game, it's hard to imagine Gradius' power bar not being used as an example. I should probably start referring to it more often...

The power bar contains a number of upgrades for your ship. The more power-ups you collect, the further progress you make through the power bar, and you can stop at any time in order to claim a weapon or upgrade. From the start, I found the ship to move a bit too slow for my liking, which is probably why the first power-up is an increase to your speed.

I could take it, or I could wait for some higher powered weaponry early on in the game, from missiles that fire beneath me to a small orb like thing that follows my ship and shoots when I shoot. Collect enough power-ups and you can upgrade those weapons to the point where you have four orbs shooting when you shoot, or a ship that moves so fast that you've put yourself at a disadvantage.

I've said that I... strongly disliked?... trial and error, especially when it meant dying in order to work out what needs to be done. In Gradius, you're still likely to die if you have the wrong weapon for the situation you're in, but at least you can learn what's what while you're still alive.

One by one I played with the different weapons, and while I'm still not sure what I should be aiming for, or what the best combination is, I at least have my favourites. If I can remember them. Might just have to fire it up after I'm done writing here.


I found myself getting caught out by my own stupid decisions more than by any bad play on Gradius' part. This section with volcanoes was unexpected though, and halted progress once or twice, when I got to them (at the end of stage 1, before the boss fight, in case you're wondering. I am that good at some of these games...).

The game is known for those large boss ships requiring you to shoot the core of them, a weak point by a fancy name, and if you've made it to the boss with a useful array of weapons then it's a simple enough task, one that may get easier as the game goes on, if you're good at juggling power-ups. I can't say for sure, I didn't make it too far.

Final Word

Progress may have been a bit slow, but I had quite the blast. And then I watched someone - someone far more skilled than I - play the arcade version. Wow. Yeah. That... that's why Gradius is on the list then. Because it's Gradius.

With it's parallax starfield, it's mental stages (starting space-like, but veering into Easter Island heads shooting from their mouths kind of thing) and it's quadrupling of your fire-power from previous arcade titles, Gradius is quite the sight to see, and it's quite the series too. How good each individual title in that series is I don't know. We're not finished with it, I know that much, and I may just look out for Gradius elsewhere - not that I anticipate any success within them.

Keep chipping away at it and who knows? Even if you don't make it through the game in one piece, you can easily pass the time with a game that is worth your time in the first place. Forget any space shooter I've recommended so far, play Gradius.

Fun Facts

Ever wondered where the Konami code came from? Wonder no more. Instant multiple power-ups? Gotta be tried once, right?

Gradius, developed by Konami, first released in 1985.
Version played: NES, 1986, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1985 (World of Longplays)