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Gradius 2 MSX

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Gradius II
Gofer no Yabou II

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Gradius III
Gradius Gaiden

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Gradius IV
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Gradius Rebirth

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Salamander / Life Force
Salamander 2

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Portable Games

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Gradius III: Densetsu kara Shinwa e (グラディウスIII 伝説から神話へ) - Arcade, SNES, PlayStation 2, PSP, Wii Virtual Console (1989)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

Super Famicom Cover

The jump between the original Gradius and Gradius II was pretty massive - the same can't be said for Gradius III (whose subtitle means "From Legend to Myth"). In fact, in some ways it's actually a bit worse. While the graphics are technically on the same level, the visuals just kinda lack the extra flair. Similarly, the music has a vastly different feel to it, and loses a lot of the strong percussion that made Gradius II so memorable, even though the actual compositions are just as good.

The first stage takes place in a desert, and even features sand dragons vaguely similar to the flame dragons from Gradius II. The second stage features gigantic deadly bubbles that burst into smaller ones when shot, once again a variation of the crystal stage. The third level is another revisitation of the cave level from the first two games, although this one delves underground and has you carving tunnels through huge expanses of sand. The fourth stage is a weird experiment - a 3D stage similar to the bonus levels in Sega's After Burner. There are no bad guys here, and all you need to do is fly through a long corridor, making sure you don't collide into the walls. Since it scrolls so quickly, this is much easier said than done. It looks pretty cool the first time you see it, but it's aggravating and feels completely out of place.

The fifth stage is yet another moai level, while the sixth is an organic fortress, featuring some of those tentacled meteors from the first game. The seventh stage is another flame planet, which isn't half as interesting as the first stage from Gradius II, but the eighth stage introduces another Gradius staple - the plant stage, which ends with a monstrous piece of vegetation that tries to suck up the Vic Viper with its powerful gusts of wind. The ninth stage comprises of little glass cubes that form corridors and obstacles as you fly through it, which tops off with a boss rush, featuring enemies from all of the previous games. The final stage is yet another mechanical base, topping off with a high powered escape sequence after defeating the final boss. If you allow yourself to get hit at the final boss, you'll be transported to a mini stage based on the first level of either Gradius or Salamander.

There are some new and interesting elements in Gradius III, but a lot of it is just variations on themes from the previous games. Plus, it's actually more frustrating, because the difficulty has been upped even further. As if that wasn't enough, there's no way to continue at all, so once you run out of lives, you need to start from scratch. The Japanese version features an "beginner" mode which tones down the difficulty, but only allows to access the first three stages. This feature is missing from the Asia version of the game, although the game overall is a bit easier.

The only real improvement is the expanded arsenal. Like its predecessor, there are four different selections, but there's a new Edit mode, allowing you to pick and choose each of your individual power-ups. However, some weapons are only available in standard weapon select, and others only in Edit mode. New weapons include a Free-Way double gun, which can fire in any direction you're flying in; the Twin Laser, which is less powerful than the standard laser but more focused than the Ripple; the Control missile, which lets you remote control your missiles along with the ship's movement; and the E. Laser, which can be charged up by holding down the fire button, creating an energy pulse that surrounds the Vic Viper, temporarily acting as a shield against some enemies. There's a new Option formation, where they act in a slightly different manner and provide a wider firing range.

The Free Shield lets you stick a Shield on whatever part of the ship you want, rather than just the front, while the Reduce shield shrinks the Vic Viper, making it easier to dodge projectiles, and can also absorb a single hit. There's also a new entry on the Power Up bar, denoted by an exclamation point. By default, this will remove all power-ups from your ship (not sure why anyone would want to do this - perhaps to reduce rank), but you can also lower the speed if you've selected too many Speed Ups, or transfer your extra lives into Options.

Two years after the release of Gradius III in arcades, Konami ported it to the SNES. After so many years of compromised arcade ports for the NES, Gradius III for the SNES looked as if practically arcade perfect - considering it was almost a launch title, it was meant to be a selling point for Nintendo's then-brand new 16-bit system. Alas, looks can be deceiving, because a lot of details didn't make it to the SNES port, or were drastically rearranged. Several enemies were removed, including the sand lions in the first stage, the floating moai head right before the boss of the Moai stage, a gigantic fire dragon before the boss of the fire stage (different from the worm-like creature that ends up being the final boss), and others simply didn't make the cut.

Half of the underground portion of stage 3 is gone, as well as the 3D bonus stage, although honestly nobody would miss that. The eighth stage, the one with the little crystal blocks that assemble the stage as you fly through it, is gone entirely. The sixth stage, the biological level, has been truncated and moved to the end of the game, right before the final boss - the original boss of that stage, a series of brains similar to the Life Force boss, have been ditched. On a similar note, however, the speed-up zone, which used to be a quick area right after beating the final boss, has been moved up a few stages, is now significantly longer, and includes a new boss. The final stage is a bit different, mostly in removing some of the legs of the mechanical spider. There are, however, several additional hidden stages in the SNES version. The intro, which originally detailed the history of the Gradius games, has been changed to a small cinema of the Vic Viper being launched. The title screen in the arcade version shows the Vic Viper being chased by a dragon, while it's just empty space in the SNES one.

Despite all of the downgrades, the SNES version is actually quite a bit better in a number of ways. Most of the visuals are straight out of the arcade version, and in some areas, even look a bit better, like the extra layer of scrolling in the first stage. The music has a different sound to it, using alternate sound samples while keeping most of the same melodies. The SNES version loses the intro theme and one of the navigation songs, but adds in an extra boss theme and some new music for some other areas. It's also quite a bit easier, having been balanced for home play rather than the brutal arcade challenge - this alone is enough reason to prefer it over the arcade version. Part of this, however, is due to the excessive slowdown, which was common in early SNES shooters (see Super R-Type). The SNES version also mercifully gives you a few credits.

Some of the weapons in Edit Mode have changed too - the Control Missile and Upper Missile have been replaced with the Hawk Wing and 2Way Back, and the Spread Gun and Free Way are gone. There are two new Option formations - F. Option, which positions all of your Options in a vertical line for an even larger range of fire, and R. Option, which will cause the Options to rotate around the Vic Viper. The Free Shield has been replaced with the R. Shield, which also rotates around the ship. The Reduce shield now lets you take a couple of hits before you expand to the original size. There's also an additional ability in the ! column - the Mega Crush, which kills everything on screen when activated.

In the overall context of the series, Gradius III is a bit disappointing. However, from the American perspective, it was fairly well received. Part of which was because the audience hadn't previously experienced the brutal arcade game, which didn't hit the States until the PS2 compilation. Part of it was also that Gradius II had never been released there either, so the retreaded elements weren't apparent, and it actually seemed to be hugely innovative in comparison to Life Force. Additionally, despite the technical issues, it was one of the only decent shooters released on the Super Nintendo.

Gradius III has also been rereleased on a few compilations, notably the Gradius III & IV pack for the PlayStation 2, and the Gradius Collection for the PSP. Both of these are emulations of the arcade version, with the ability to turn off slowdown. The PS2 version also saves checkpoints, allowing you to resume a game you've quit, or restart at an earlier point in the level in case you need to power-up. There's also a bonus "Cube Attack" mode, allowing you to challenge the flying crystal blocks of the eighth stage. If you beat the game, you can also unlock an Extra Edit mode, allowing you to pick some of the additional weapons found in the SNES game. The PSP port lacks these features. The SNES version is also available on the Wii Virtual Console.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Hiroyasu Machiguchi

Genre:

Themes:


Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)

Gradius III (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots


Gradius Gaiden (グラディウス外伝) - PlayStation, PSP (1997)

Cover

Gradius Gaiden is the perfect example of how to evolve a series. Graphically, it does to Gradius what Symphony of the Night did for Castlevania - it features gorgeous, splendidly detailed 2D graphics that totally blow away most other shooters. The first stage is a beautiful trip through a snow field as colorful auroras shine peacefully in the background. The whole thing is interrupted by a gigantic white caterpillar which bursts out of the ground and begins to attack. The rest of the stages aren't quite as spectacular, but it's still one damn good looking game, with barely a polygon in sight.

Other than the graphical improvements, Gradius Gaiden really excels because it has lots of familiar moments with cool twists. The second stage is a ship graveyard, filled with wrecked remains of old Gradius bosses, some of which still fire off some shots despite being buried deep in rubble. The third stage is another crystal level, but here, the crystals bend and refract your laser shots, which looks really, really cool. The statues in the moai stage fire huge lasers, which continue to radiate even after being destroyed. The level boss is a square room with four huge moai heads on the wall that spin around, which brings to mind that famous level in Super Castlevania IV, where the entire screen rotates. (The moais even taunt you, yelling "You think you can beat me with that? Loser!" when you first fight them.) The biological and plant stages are cool, but the real standout is the Event Horizon stage. It's a replica of the first level from the original Gradius, except it's being torn apart by a black hole, requiring that you dodge bits of scenery that are being tossed at you. The game caps with the usual boss rush - one of the toughest parts of the game, of course - a speed up zone, an enemy that looks like the ED-209 from Robocop 2, except it has rocket powered skates, and a final boss that puts on an impressive light show.

The music, again like Symphony of the Night, consists of a wide selection of genres, ranging from peppy new age to upbeat rock to cool atmospheric tunes. The boss theme is unnaturally catchy, far better than the obnoxiously repetitive tunes in most of the other games. The moai stage has an exotic instrument that sounds a bit like a bagpipe - the final fight has an epic, faux-orchestral quality to it. It's definitely classic Konami, top caliber stuff that feels considerably more mature than previous entries. There's even the option to switch between male and female voiceovers, which also effects the intro - which is done in English with a Star Wars-style text scroll.

Unfortunately, the weapon selection isn't quite as vast as in Gradius III, although it's still fairly expansive. This time, you can select from four ships. The good old Vic Viper features the standard Gradius payload with the usual Missile, Double and Laser weapons. The Lord British - making a return from Salamander - has a Two-Way Missile, a Ripple Laser and a new laser beam called the Disruptor, which emanates a thick pulse across the whole screen. A new ship called the Jade Knight has the Spread Bomb, the Round Laser - which fires a circular laser that surrounds your ship - and the Pulse Laser, which is basically the same as the Twin Laser. The other new ship, the Falchion Beta, is based off the spacecraft from the old Famicom Disk System game Falchion. It has the Rolling Missile - a bomb that fires straight down and then explodes horizontally - Auto Aiming, a multidirectional shot that will automatically target foes, and a Gravity Bullet, which is a powerful shot that explodes like a Spread Bomb. The weapons are not interchangeable between ships, but you can switch between ships when you continue. You can also configure the order of the power-ups on the weapons bar. That means you can stick the Shield at the front, and the useless weapons at the end, so it's easier to arm yourself with only a few orbs. There are also two levels to each weapon, including bombs, allowing them to be strengthened for extra firepower. There are also four Shield selections - in addition to the standard frontal Shield and Force Field, there's as the Guard Shield, which protects the top and bottom part of your ship but leaves the front and back exposed, and the Limit Shield, which grants a few seconds of total invincibility. Too bad the cool Option modes from Gradius III were removed.

It's an extraordinarily minor flaw though, because the overall quality definitely makes up for it. Gradius Gaiden is the first game in the series since the MSX games made specifically for the console market. As such, it's balanced to be difficult but not impossible. You begin the game with nine credits, and can give yourself up to seven lives, but the game is still challenging even on Very Easy mode. Harkening back to Life Force, there's also a two player simultaneous mode. When playing with a friend, you'll instantly respawn upon death, making the game a bit easier. However, you need to share the credits between both players, and they can go quickly. The single player mode still works with checkpoints.

Gradius Gaiden is a fantastic game - it's really a toss-up between this and Gradius V as to which is the best. During its original run for the PlayStation, Gradius Gaiden was only released in Japan. It was meant to be included as a bonus on the American release of the Salamander Deluxe Pack, but the whole deal ended up falling through, much to the annoyance of shooter fans everyone. Gradius Gaiden made its American debut on the Gradius Collection for the PSP in 2006. It's pretty much a straight port, although it lacks the two player mode.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Teisaku Seki

Genre:

Themes:


Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)

Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)

Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)

Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)

Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)

Gradius Gaiden (PlayStation)


Additional Screenshots


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Intro
Gradius
Gradius 2 MSX

Page 2:
Gradius II
Gofer no Yabou II

Page 3:
Gradius III
Gradius Gaiden

Page 4:
Gradius IV
Gradius V
Gradius Rebirth

Page 5:
Salamander / Life Force
Salamander 2

Page 6:
Portable Games

Page 7:
Solar Assault
Cosmic Wars
Other

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