Gradius

Hardware: Famicom/NES
04/25/1986 (Japan), 12/1986 (US), 11/30/1988 (PAL)
グラディウス

Nearly one year after the original, Gradius finally came home to the Famicom/NES. This home port does as respectable of a job as a Famicom game can of replicating the look and feel of the original. Sure you don’t get the Big Core boss rising directly from the ashes of whatever thing came before it, or the full depth of music found in the arcade version, but at least this is a game that looks good and still has the original music scaled down for the Famicom.

Gradius - Classic Pattern Gradius - Volcano
The beginning of the classic Gradius pattern that the first enemies on screen follow. The first “mini boss”, a Volcano?! There’s a fairly safe spot in the upper left corner that works every time if you have missiles and at least one Option!

There are plenty of other changes that had to be made to accommodate for memory limitations of a cartridge in 1986 though. The most damaging is perhaps taking the maximum number of Options (those little balls that move around you, also firing when you do) from four down to two. This dramatically decreases the amount of fire power you have in a fully powered-up state to get you out of the most intense situations that Gradius can throw at you. Modifications to the way the other special weapons work (the laser in particular: it was turned from one rapidly firing beam into two shorter beams with longer breaks in between their rapid firing) were also made due to memory limitations. While these may only bother you if you’re familiar with how things worked in the arcade version, it still results in a net power-down. All that being said, the effectiveness of the front-facing shields were slightly boosted and missiles automatically fire along with your main weapon (no separate button required). You can also use the Speed Up a maximum of 14 times, though using it even half of that makes the Vic Viper move far too fast to accurately control. The ability to wrap ahead levels under certain conditions was also introduced.

Gradius - Big Core Gradius - Second Level
The Big Core looks mostly the same here, though for me it seemed to take a little bit more time to take down The second level is mostly full of weird block things that you have to shoot through…perhaps some sort of a preview of the first Gradius spin-off?

This port of Gradius is also the very first Konami title to feature the famous Konami Code. If input from a paused state, the Vic Viper will be powered up in every way save for Double/Laser and Speed Ups. The tricky thing is that this can only be used once per game, unless a trick for getting an extra chance to input it is used: Destroying the Big Core (the boss that appears at the end of most levels) before its core turns red. It’s said that the Konami code was implemented for this home port because Kazuhisa Hashimoto (the main developer) found the game too difficult to play through during testing without it. There is also a code that can be quickly entered at the game over screen that will allow you to continue only once, though it doesn’t give you another chance at entering the Konami code. Like the arcade version, the game gives you a very brief ending screen when you beat the final boss, and then loops back to the beginning at a higher difficulty. This also carries over the original’s 2 player mode, which is nothing more than each player taking alternating turns.

Gradius - Second Mini Boss Gradius - Moai Heads
The second boss is possibly even weirder than the first. It’s just some blocks that appear continuously out of thin air? The classic Gradius Moai heads that would appear in many later Konami games. Here they also shoot bubbles out of their mouths…

If you really love the Famicom/NES port but still don’t want the cartridge (which tends not to be too expensive), look no further than the Wii, 3DS or Wii U virtual consoles across all regions.