As everyone who reads this site probably knows by now I love Konami shooters - and I've loved Gradius since I played the original game (called Nemesis in this part of the world) as a teenager. So when I heard about an arcade sequel to Gradius 3 (the last game in the series, released way back in 1989 in the arcades and subsequently ported to the SNES) a few years back I was suitably intrigued to say the least. Well a year or so passed and I heard neither hide nor hair of the game (Konami seemingly only wanting to keep its Gradius franchise sealed up in its home country of Japan..) and I assumed I'd probably never get the chance to see - let alone play - the thing either in an arcade or at home on these shores. Until very recently, when Konami took everyone by surprise and released a compilation of Gradius 3 and the as yet unseen on any console Gradius 4 for the fledgeling Playstation 2! Well I never! At long last a PSX2 game that I really would like ;)



Basically it's a follow up to the Gradius Deluxe Packs (featuring Gradius and Gradius 2 - Vulcan Venture) that were released in 1996 on the 32-bit Playstation and Sega Saturn. It's the first time arcade Gradius 3 has had a 'proper' home port (though the SNES version was admirably close it suffered from appalling slow-down at times as well as leaving out a lot of features and some stages) but the real star of the show is obviously Gradius 4. I finally got the chance of a quick playtest on this a few days back.. and visually it certainly is a pretty radical departure from the first thee games in the series. The first thing you notice - apart from the astounding opening FMV - is how most of the graphics (probably at least 80% if not more..) seem to be polygon-based, even enemy ships and some of the bullets, as well as texture mapped polygon background effects. Unlike for example R-Type Delta's rather grainy use of 3D graphics compared to the pin-sharp handrawn bitmap style of old, and this being a 'Next-gen' system of course - the visuals are amazingly clear and the hi-res texture mapped polygon objects come near to having the character of actual hand-drawn sprites- an amazing achievement. I'm a hand-drawn-spriteaphile through and through but was most impressed. Konami should be much lauded here for the work put into this particular graphic aspect.

What impressed me less however was the fact that though I only saw about 5 stages - they ALL seemed to be re-runs of levels taken from earlier Gradius games. The opening level for example is a polygonised re-hash of Gradius 2's opening 'Solar Flare' stage complete with swirling fire-dragons (well they are PSX2 rendered 'metallic' gold ones this time) and 'morphing' dragon end-of-stage boss but the effect really is one of deja vu. The second stage is better, a bio-organic level teeming with alien plant-life where bizarre and beautifully animated grasping tentacles try and grab you, followed by a giant mutant plant boss - but it still felt a little like a similar level in Gradius 3. The music on this stage was particularly good though. Later levels see returns of more familiar Gradius icons like the errupting volcanoes, fiery caverns, laser-spitting mothership bosses, and of course those damn Moai heads. There is also a rerun of the Gradius 2 stage where you had to guide your ship through slamming doors in alien complex while trying to keep up with the nerve-janglingly fast on-screen scrolling. Also the choice of ships and weaponry felt distinctly lacking especially after all those lovely options given the player in Gradius 3. All in all (and admittedly it's early days yet as I've not played all the way through the game) it kind of felt like an exercise in rehashing old ideas from the series in a glittery next-gen makeover than making any real innovative headway in the series - something which I think R-Type Delta at least managed to address well with its radically re-designed weapon systems, play mechanics and (in terms of other R-type games) fresh stages. That old Gradius power-up select bar is still there, and it's still an absolute bind clawing back your weapons when you get killed. Surely Konami could think about abolishing the old mandatory 'speed-up' pick up routine after every death? God knows how many accumulated hours over the years I've spent trying to desperately get to a power-up on my subsequent life to getting killed while watching my Vic Viper move at the speed of a Morris Minor..(slow) Familiarity in a series might be a good thing to a certain extent.. but I think over-familiarity can get to be a bit of a drag. I still reckon that the biggest jump in innovation that the Gradius series took was between Gradius (Nemesis) and Gradius 2 and that subsequent Gradiuses have seen Konami coasting a bit, compared for instance to the way they developed the Parodius series.

Maybe time will tell if it's the classic it surely deserves to be.. but the question in my
mind at the moment is - where to next for the Gradius series?

(ABOVE) Stage Two: beautiful bio-organic scenery and wiggly purple tentacles (Right) Stage
Three: a re-run of the 'Bubble' stage from Gradius 3 with a shimmery polygon backdrop..

(ABOVE) Two subsequent levels include a slimy Salamander-style
stage and a fast-scrolling alien base complex teeming with tiny guns.

(ABOVE) I guess I have to hand it to Konami that the Gradius 4 mothership
bosses are pretty cool - and they always keep you on the edge of your seat.

(ABOVE) Gradius 4 has a fairly limited line up of weapon options and
unfortunately no mixing and matching of powerup-styles unlike in Gradius 3.

(ABOVE) Gradius 3 - still a great game despite the fact that it's now over 10 years old..

Thanks to Ben Turner who just alerted me to his excellent
review at (He agrees with me..)

Another alternative Gradius 3&4 review at
Gamers Republic can be found here.

Gradius 3&4 Deluxe PSX2 Pack copyright Konami 2000