Gradius
System: NES Publisher: Konami Developer: Konami
Genre: Action Type: Space Shooter Circa: 1986
Okay, so I used the cheat code to get screenshots. Sue me!...Talk about having your world turned upside-down

The last thing I ever want to find myself doing when writing reviews is criticizing a game simply because it's "old". However, I can't help but feel that there are some games that seemed really good when I first played them, but haven't stood the test of time so well. Gradius, is perhaps, one such game. Being the first game of its kind on the NES, Gradius inspired many of the sidescrolling space shooters to come. Although it is considered by many to be a classic, and it has a lot of unique features, it is not without flaw.
GRAPHICS: 7/10
Gradius's graphics are pretty decent for a game from 1986. The enemies, bosses, and backgrounds are large and colorful. There is a good variety of backgrounds, too, such as a stage with giant Easter Island heads, a level that looks like an alien nest, a high-tech space fortress, and areas with mountains and trees. The graphics are nice, but rather simplistic. It's very easy to see enemy shots, which is crucial for shooters, as I never like getting blown up by things I couldn't see. There is some repetition in Gradius's graphics. One stage is just an upside-down version of the volcano level, and the same exact boss design is used for every level except the last two.
You have to wonder why the enemy is so intent on defending rocks...The most infamous Gradius image - the giant Easter Island heads
SOUND: 5/10
Some of Gradius's music themes are okay, but the actual sound quality is very poor. The level 1 music is probably the best music in the whole game, and after that, none of it is very good or memorable. The boss music is rather peculiar, as it doesn't really seem like "boss" music. The sound effects aren't real great, either, but they have a certain endearing quality to them. The ship's lasers sound "chirpy", and the explosions sound more like something bouncing than exploding.
CONTROL: 7.5/10
The basic controls of left, right, up, down, and shoot are very good, but the ship is rather sluggish until you collect a couple of speed-ups. In Gradius, you have a weapons bar at the bottom of the screen. As you collect power-ups from defeated enemies, these weapons light up. You can then choose to activate the weapon once it's lit. The first item on the bar is "speedup". Before you get at least one speedup activated, your ship is way too slow to dodge anything. One speedup is probably all you'll ever need, but there may be times when you want more than one. Unfortunately, once you speed up, you can't speed down without losing a ship! So if you speed up to get more maneuverability, you may find that the ship moves too quickly when you try to dodge in tight areas later on. Also, there is some really bad slowdown when there's a lot of stuff on the screen, especially when fighting the Antennoids of Level 4. The hit detection for your ship tends to be a little off at times, too. For example, in the first level, there is a huge rock you can touch the back of to get a 1-UP. But if you try to get that close to other obstacles, such as the Moai heads in Level 3, you'll blow up. Gradius's control is okay, but takes some experimentation before understanding what you can and can't do with it.
Meatballs with arms?...The ominous big floating rock
STORY/ATMOSPHERE: 5/10
Gradius was one of the first games to introduce the premise of the lone spaceship versus the big alien army. In this case, Bacterion is threatening to destroy the peaceful planet, Gradius, and only the Vic Viper (or Warp Rattler) has the ability to stop it. While Gradius has simplistic graphics, they emote a surrealistic atmosphere all their own. The Moai head stages have become a video gaming icon. The scripting is cheesy in that "eighties" sort of way, as in one stage volcanos erupt to the tune of that silly boss music, and in another you're assaulted by waves of meteors with arms.
CHALLENGE: 6.5/10
Gradius offers a decent challenge, but it really isn't too hard to master. Once you have your ship fully powered-up with all the weapons, options, and shields, it becomes almost unstoppable. There are many areas that require practice and memorization, as navigating through the background terrain is just as daunting a task as dealing with the various enemies. Perhaps the biggest challenge is making a mistake, getting blown up, then reappearing without any of your weapons in the middle of a tough level! Unfortunately, the boss battles are not one of Gradius's strong points, as every boss is the same except for the last two. Many mini-bosses have similar attacking patterns. Gradius also has, quite possibly, the lamest final boss in the history of video games.
FUN: 6.5/10
Gradius is not a game I really like to play over and over a lot, but sometimes I replay it just to see if I can still beat it without using the codes, or for nostalgic reasons. Despite it's campiness, it's a game that doesn't seem really all that special, anymore. It does offer a decent challenge, but it can become rather mundane, with similar bosses and levels repeating themselves so much. It is good that the levels are difficult, becasue they aren't very long. The last two levels in particular seem to go by very quickly. There is some creative level design (the Moai head stage being the standout), and some interesting secrets, like codes and warps. But Gradius's weapon power-up system is probably its most revolutionary aspect.
This guy is the boss of almost every level, so get used to seeing him...Volcanos always seem to erupt at the most inconvenient times

While it may not have stood the test of time as well as a lot of other great games have, Gradius is still an oddity and a classic that I find strangely appealing. ALthough many shooters have vastly improved on what was begun with this game, it is still worth giving a try.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 6.5/10

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