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Gradius Review

A few months ago the very first third-party licensee games for the NES were finally brought to market. In Japan there are a bunch of companies creating games for the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES) with well over 100 titles currently available. Now that the NES has successfully launched nationwide in North America, we can expect many of those same developers to bring their hit games to our shores. Konami, the developer of Gradius, is one of the hottest companies in Japan having released games that have sold over a million copies apiece. If you frequent arcades you’ll be familiar with the name, but it has mostly been relegated to the home computer market until now. If Gradius is any indication, Konami will be a powerhouse developer on the NES!


Although the NES library up to this point has been full of variety, we have yet to see a space shoot’em up on the system. They were all the rage a few years ago with games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender, and Galaga topping the best seller charts. That has all changed with Gradius, which just released last week on the NES. It has the graphics, challenge, and gameplay to keep even the most veteran gamers coming back for more.

The planet Gradius is under attack from aliens from the sub-space star cluster of Bacterion. It’s up to you to defend the planet and push back their evil advances by piloting the Warp Rattler, a new prototype hyper-space fighter equipped with the latest in high-tech weaponry. It’s not enough to simply defend the planet – you must go on the offensive and penetrate their Superfortress, Xaerous to end this conflict once and for all.


Much like Defender, Gradius is a side scrolling shooting game. One big difference is the stages scroll automatically from right to left, meaning you have constantly be on the lookout for waves of enemy ships as well as avoid any terrain that could damage your ship. Successfully destroying the enemy waves will often result in a power-up capsule. When you collect one, it will highlight a power-up bar on the bottom of the screen. You have the option to use the power-up right away, or to build the bar up to reach your desired weapons of choice. There’s definitely a bit of strategy here: do you go for the immediate boost for your ship, or fly in a weakened state until you’re able to access a more advanced power-up?

You will be able to choose from Speed Up (your ship moves around faster on the screen to more easily avoid enemies), Missile (your ship will fire missiles that can hit enemies below you), Double (your single-shot cannon is doubled, giving you more firepower), Laser (a single-shot powerful laser), Option (deploys the Sidewinder orb, which mimics your current weapon – you can have up to two of these deployed for triple the firepower), and Force Field Barrier (your ship is invulnerable to enemy attacks up to a certain damage point). While all of the power-ups are advantageous, I really enjoy saving up for the Option as it quickly allows you to deal more damage. Imagine having the Double power-up and two Options, which would give you six powerful blasts with every press of the button. You can’t have Double and Laser at the same time though, you must choose which one is better for your play style.

As you progress through each stage, the levels will become increasingly more challenging. There are seven stages to blast through before you can see the ending. The game does support two players, but you must take turns. The game can be very difficult for newcomers, but I found myself becoming steadily better at the game with every life lost. Over time you will memorize the stages and the enemy encounters and perhaps make it to the Xaerous Superfortress stage to put an end to the Bacterion Empire once and for all.

Gradius is one of the prettier games released so far on the NES. The stages have unique looks to them and there are all sorts of hazards flying about the screen at once. The game’s enemies all animate great and the action is often fierce and exciting. One thing that’s becoming apparent, especially with this new batch of third-party games, is that when too many objects are placed on the screen at the same time, the NES can’t handle the processing. When this occurs, the graphics will often flicker, making the objects almost ghost-like in nature. This is a limitation of the NES, and really the developers have to decide whether to reduce the objects on the screen, thus making the game too easy, or to keep the challenge level higher and deal with some of the technical hiccups. While the flickering may annoy some players, I found myself getting used to it rather quickly and it didn’t hamper my game sessions.


Gradius not only looks great, but it sounds fantastic as well. The background music is extremely contagious and well composed. As you progress through the stages and into the alien stronghold, the soundtrack becomes even more eerie and foreboding. Really the only tracks in the game that borderlines on irritating are the big boss encounters because they repeat themselves every five seconds. The sound effects suffice, but some of the high-pitched sounds can become a bit annoying after long sessions.

The game also shines in the play control department. While I would prefer to play a game like this with a joystick, the NES controller does suffice, even allowing the ship to move at various angles. The game never felt unfair in control department, which is vitally important in an action game as intense as this one can be.



I’m impressed with Konami’s first game on the NES. Gradius has all of the fixings of an instant classic. I can see why it sold over a million copies in Japan, and wouldn’t be surprised to see it do the same here. With exciting stages, fun gameplay, excellent graphics, and challenging enemies, this Game Pak should keep gamers busy for months on end. Konami may not be a household name yet, but if it continues to create fun and exciting games like Gradius, I think that will quickly change.


Gradius Review
  • 9/10
    Graphics - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Gameplay - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Lasting Appeal - 8.5/10

Final Thoughts: GREAT

If you’ve been itching for a space shooter on the NES, Gradius is your answer. It’s challenging and addictive gameplay will keep even the most hardcore player entertained for days on end. Konami’s first effort on the NES is commendable.

User Review
8.2/10 (5 votes)


Computer Entertainer Logo

Taken from the January 1987 issue:

Computer Entertainer awarded Gradius 3 out 4 for graphics and 3.5 out of 4 for quality of game play and entertainment value. It received a Recommended rating.

Computer Entertainer Review Guidelines:






♦ = ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMS (1st set of diamonds = quality of graphics; 2nd set = quality of game play and entertainment value)

Any program for a given system is compared only to other programs for the same system. In other words, all C64-compatibles are judged separately from Apple. Some programs, which are virtually identical for multiple systems, will be so noted. When we review software for more than one system, we will note differences and which system we reviewed.

Craig Majaski

Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He's currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.

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