The Boss Rush option in Gradius IV gives you maximum power-up to defeat every boss in turn against the clock
If the side scrolling shoot ’em up had never happened what would consumers think of Gradius III & IV among today’s sprawling adventure games and narrative epics? They hardly push the PS2 hardware, that’s for sure, but would gamers brought up with data storage and cheat cartridges tolerate the cruelty of having to restart the whole game every time the disk is placed into the CD drive?
Thankfully Konami’s 2 classic conversions do allow infinite continues (and on Gradius III a level select option once the stage has been reached). But don’t for a moment be deceived into thinking that this is any indication of an easy ride. Both games are unforgiving in the extreme and shouldn’t even be approached if you find twitch gaming frustrating.
Konami were clearly intent on putting as many titles as possible on the shelves for the PS2’s launch, but the Gradius package seems a curious choice for a machine marketed to the masses. Be warned, this is about as difficult as gaming gets but if you have patience and super quick reflexes then you will find both titles an absolute delight.
The Gradius brand is built on its sophisticated power-up system. The concept may have been stolen by Irem’s R-Type but Konami made it their own by introducing a greater degree of freedom in the selection of weapons. In practice waiting until your preferred option is highlighted (after collecting a set number of power-ups) works smoothly and adds a strategic dimension to the shoot ’em up action. Choosing the appropriate moment to ‘speed up’, charge the ripple laser or wait for the all important force field can mean the difference between a glorious victory against the amoebic Bacterion hordes or restarting the level with a pathetic pea shooter.
The aesthetic whores among you will probably prefer Gradius IV (1999), which is clearly the more immediately arresting of the two, while retro fans will be drawn to the limited palette and cutesy spot effects of Gradius III (1989). In truth there is little to choose between the two. Though Gradius IV delivers impressive graphical effects, including landscape distortion, Gradius III is the more balanced of the two titles. When you lose a life in Gradius IV – and you will over and over again – you’ll lose all the weapons and options that you’ve studiously collected. Gradius III is more generous, leaving you limited power-ups to see you through to the end of the level.
Both titles allow you to complete any given section with the most rudimentary weapon, but lose a life against an end of level boss and the going gets particularly tough. It is in these situations that the game really begins to separate the twitch gaming aficionado from the mainstream punter.
Of course, both are limited next to titles such as Metal Gear Solid or Shenmue (which, incidentally, offers a shoot ’em up in the form of Space Harrier merely as an optional extra) but both have old skool addictive qualities which should not be overlooked. Gradius III’s charm, in particular, leaves you with the desire to play on just to see what the next stage is going to offer.