The Gradius series has always been a classic side scrolling space shoot’em up that originated in the arcade and more famously the NES. These games all follow the same routine of flying to the right, collecting currency and then buying a weapon upgrade when you have enough. This made the game a lot easier, and mandatory for the crazy sections where enemies fill the screen.
I can’t really call it a “bullet hail” shooter, Gradius III and the series overall feels much more casual and fun compared to the hardcore games of the genre. I am no fan at all of horizontal space shoot’em ups, but Gradius III always caught my interest. Its a flashy, good looking game, it runs smooth and has a lot of weapon variety.
You start the game by selecting all of your weapons from four different types. You’ve got four different bombs to chose from, some that go down, others that roll along the ground, others explode and still other go up. Then you’ve got your choice of gun, a long laser, a ring laser and so on. You even get to chose whether or not you want your shields rotating around you, bound to your ship or staying in front of you. Its a good variety and offers reason to replay again and again since you can customize your ship. Entering your initials into the high score helps the replay value too.
Then as you’re flying around collecting currency, you’ll get to upgrade your speed, bombs, laser, buy shields and buy options. These options have always been another thing that makes Gradius games so great. Its like an orb that shadows you. You can buy up to four to make you feel truly powerful.
Your mission is to fly through scores of enemy space fleets, destroying them and facing big bosses at the end of each level. You might have a lot of lives, but when you die, your ship returns to the default, bare bones basic ship that you started with. This cripples you in later levels, because you won’t be powered up enough to take on waves of enemies. There’s no way to get as powerful as you were and in my opinion, that makes the game worth playing a single life then restarting.
For the most part, the levels all start in open space, where you’ll destroy waves of ships, before you fly through a corridor marked with a ceiling and floor. The floor and ceiling add a new dynamic with mobile turrets, volcano and other interesting things. The currency becomes far less abundant in these corridors. You’ll even find blue currency that destroys everything on screen when you touch it..
The series really stepped it up a notch with level and enemy variety compared to the original Gradius on the NES. I missed out on the second Gradius for whatever reason, so I don’t know how this compared to the previous entry, but this one is beautiful. The bosses are big and dynamic compared to the original game’s single boss that only moves faster.
The game is always fun to dust off and play for a life every now and again. It feels like a timeless classic. Its not all fun and roses though, the game really knuckles down on you during the sixth level and you’ll need to have lightning fast reflexes to make it through. If the game is too easy for you, there are a few difficulty settings.