The phenomenally popular left/right scrolling shoot em up Gradius has made it to the NES although you may know it on western shores in the arcades as Nemesis. So how did Konami do with the port? Pretty well as far as this reviewer is concerned.
As with the arcade machine, you take control of the Vic Viper and must survive an alien onslaught to save the world (obviously). And onslaught is the word. When I picked this up I initially struggled to pick out the differences to the coin-op. The NES’s colour palette copes pretty well so this version only feels a tad less colourful. A bit of detail is lost on the ship but all the alien craft are ported over (pretty much) as is. The backdrop is space, so no memory is lost on trying to bring that over and the foregrounds are detailed and varied enough to demonstrate progression in the game. Explosions are fun and Gradius is a satisfying experience on the NES graphics-wise, especially as blurring is minimal, no mean feat given how many sprites are on the screen at once, really pushing the console’s limit of 64.
The sound however has taken a bit of a hit (pardon the pun). I loved the music from the arcade Gradius/Nemesis and it doesn’t really work on the NES’s paltry five channels. The frantic nature of the game also means that the chirpy sound FX is difficult to bear after more than five minutes (which I suppose is OK seeing as the game only lasts twenty – more on that later). It seems silly to suggest that the console version would have benefitted from having less enemies, but that’s definitely the case on this front.
The key question is, how does Gradius play? Well I’ve said it before, it plays exactly like the arcade machine. Which is great. Sort of. The attack patterns and boss fights (correct me if I’m wrong) are almost exactly the same. The length of the game (a paltry twenty minutes when played through) is the same. It’s a fun maze-type shoot em up but it has the difficulty curve of a coin-op, meaning that you’ll die a lot when you first start playing. The Vic Viper, without the speed power-up, is cumbersome to manoeuvre, meaning that bullets will close in on you easily, causing the Vic Viper explode or crash into some scenery. Try and try again is the motto as far as Gradius is concerned and learning those attack patterns will take time. The boss fights are fun but if you die and lose your shield, speed, double-shot and laser, you’re screwed. Meaning starting the game all over.
I’m all for arcade ports to the home console and this one has been done well. Rather than wasting away your precious coins, why not just get this and enjoy it forever? Maybe because there isn’t enough game here if you’ve aced the arcade version or if you’re looking for a long-term gaming experience that doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out. Would the game have benefitted from having less on-screen enemies and some additional levels? Definitely. Throw in a few difficulty settings and you would have had a well-rounded console game. We’ll take the former for now, and you should (probably) too. I’ll see you at the barber’s.