What Is It?
Although not the original horizontal shooter, Gradius is often credited as a patron saint of the genre. You fly the Vic Viper, a specially created space fighter with a full arsenal of weapons and upgrades to unlock. The game is packed with seven stages that take us to the deepest recesses of space. You'll fight aliens while dodging erupting volcanoes, discover the origins of those Easter Island heads and even take the battle to the heart of the beast. The wide variety of funky alien types help keep Gradius fresh from beginning to end.
Gradius may not have been the first 2D shooter to embrace power-ups, but they did it best. Powering up the craft is deceptively easy, forcing players to actually choose how they would like to spec out their craft. At the bottom of the screen is a list of available weapons and upgrades. Each time you pick up an item, you move the selected power-up over by one. However, if you choose to select the weapon, the process resets. Sure you can spend the item on a speed up boost, but you're probably better off waiting for the laser weapons or double shot. If you can stay alive long enough, the Vic Viper can turn into a real killing machine.
Does It Still Hold Up?
Looking back at it now, Gradius wasn't the bullet hell shooter that some people remember. While difficult, it's a lot more forgiving than R-Type and many other games from that era. Visually the game looks nice, though the small screen of the 3DS means the bullets will get lost in the background from time to time. The bosses are exciting and the music is generally good. Even two decades later, the unique power-up system and level designs still hold up.
Is It Worth The Money?
As much as I like Gradius, I would have preferred to see one of Konami's portable entries in the series. Nemesis was released on the Game Boy in 1990 and combined elements from the first two Gradius games. I would have also accepted the remake made exclusively for the Game Boy Color. These may not be the greatest 2D shooters of all time, but they are a perfect fit on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. Enough with the NES games, it's time to let the portable systems have their moment in the sun.
On the other hand, Gradius is still a fun and challenging shooter. Plus, this is also the first game of its type on the 3DS Virtual Console. Fans who have been patiently waiting for a shoot-em-up are in luck, now you have a genuine classic at the palms of your hands. Still, I wish it was something that hasn't been released countless times already. But here's the real question: Why did it take Nintendo sixteen months to upload a classic shooter on the 3DS Virtual Console?
Gradius is a genuine classic. But at the same time, we've seen this NES port before. There are better versions of Gradius on the Nintendo 3DS, making this Virtual Console release questionable. On the other hand, you can't go wrong with one of Konami's most influential games.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!