Gradius Galaxies is a 2D horizontal scrolling space shooter. I have always loved the Gradius series, its always been a simple side view spaceship shooting game, with a fire button and a buy a power up button. You are a small spaceship, which must fly through enemy platoons and fortresses destroying big bad monsters, turrets, ships, flame dragons and much more. Its simple, its “classic arcade” fun, but this Gradius has added a huge amount of detail, such as great backgrounds, enemies with more animations and more traps like volcanoes and moving gates. This however slowed down the game drastically!
The Gradius series all follows the same routine of flying to the right, collecting pod 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 Galaxies 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, a lot more than the original Gradius on the NES. Gradius Galaxies like Gradius III 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..
Gradius Galaxies does mix up the place. Instead of flying around dodging enemies and bullets, there’s a diversity of gate smashing. There are levels where you’ll need to destroy blocks of ice to navigate through different paths before the ice above you falls and crushes your ship. That’s right its once hit and you’re dead like in all Gradius games. A single death is a reason to restart the game, because you lose all of your power ups.
One nice thing about the game is you can fly up past the height of the screen or down below it. That adds a lot of choice and a certain degree of exploration to find different paths. If one area gets too wild with enemies, explore a different area. The choice is yours. This of course means that enemies can and will fly in from all angles, top and bottom of the screen instead of just right and occasionally the left side. Its needed to evolve the series.
Like several other games, if Gradius has an ice level, there’s also a fire level. Its a nice fresh mix to the series that faces you off against a massive flame dragon, long lines of fire, and fiery space lions that spring from said lines of fire. It keeps you on your toes and borders on location memorization.
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.