Gradius logo

And here we have a classic: Gradius. Back in the days of phat ass TV’s, BMX’s and He-Man, video gaming had a select group of genres. The standard was beat ‘em ups, platform, shooters and racing games. The technology was limited to flat worlds, the realm of the sprites. A type you don’t see as much now, which was common in the olden days, was the side scroller.

The side scroller played well with the other genres and could skip together hand in hand. Such kinds included

  • Beat ‘em ups: Final Fight, The Simpsons, Kung Fu
  • Platform: Mario, Donkey Kong, Metal Slug
  • Shooters: Defender, Paper Boy(!), Gradius

Gradius is the epitome of the arcades. My local arcade had a row of the latest games – the machines you could sit in had full working parts – games such as Super Hang-On, Outrun, Terminator 2, and Space Harrier. In the next section were some of the big machines such as Virtua Striker 2, WWF Wrestlemania, and Star Wars. Then there was the corner row that had classic SNK, Konami and Nintendo games all lined up next to each other. Games such as Ikari Warriors, 1941, Commando and of course, Gradius.

I was always a beat ‘em up fan growing up but around the time was the first release of Mortal Kombat but everyone was on that. Kids weren’t supposed to play. Officially. Instead, I would play these older games, and Gradius was amongst the list as not as many people were playing it.

The graphics are dated, but with the way people look at these ‘retro’ games, they are perfectly passable as the gameplay is what stands out on this. This was a time when you couldn’t palm off a gorgeous game with no substance off to Johnny Public – everything was face value, and in Gradius, you fly a spaceship, shooting down enemy ships, tanks and buildings with a variety of weapons and power-ups you collect along the way.

As a kid, the difficulty was insane, and there would often be a quick change of hands who was playing it while the others went to get more shrapnel to pump into the cabinet or sulked that they only had a few turns and had no money. As an adult, it’s still hard, but it’s unlimited turns now as available with all the other NES Online games.

Gradius starting level - before it gets difficult...

Think of it as a pimped up Defender. It’s a similar game. Fly, shoot, kill the boss, fly, manoeuvre away from rocks, shoot, kill the boss. There’s no story here, but that’s not why we play it. When this came to the home systems – in this case, the NES, I didn’t play it as much. I was a beat ‘em up fan at the time (I still am) and shooters didn’t appeal as much.

Around this time, was one of my favourite vertical scrolling shooters: Xenon 2. I loved that game. Possibly influenced by Gradius, the graphics (Amiga 500) were amazing. The power-ups were insane and the enemies were cool, but the best thing of all was the music. I used to have a stack system connected up to my Amiga and would play this super loud. For anyone new to the game and Amiga soundtracks, then it might not be for you. For fellow oldies though, I recommend checking out the Xenon 2 intro below.

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