Game Overkill

Game Overkill – Gradius

As the lists came in, I got to see certain games slowly move up in number of votes. Sometimes this made me excited because it was a game I loved, and other times it made me anxious because it was a game I had absolutely no interest in playing. Gradius fits into the latter category. I’d never really played it before, but I’ve pretty much never liked a single shmup I’ve played beyond 2nd generation of consoles (think Atari 2600). To say I wasn’t excited to see it make the list would be an understatement.

I’d never played the game, but I knew of it and I knew it is supposed to be ridiculously difficult. A month ago, I was bored figured since the game may take me a long time to beat, I might as well get some practice in. It took me the entire day (at least 4 or 5 hours off and on over the course of the day), but I beat it. A couple of days ago, I beat it again. I absolutely hated it. Both times. So here it is, the 2nd Game Overkill entry, but how do you write about a game you hated? I have no idea, but let’s find out.

Gradius - Box Art




I feel I need to repeat something here: I have not liked a shmup beyond 2nd gen games. I spent hundreds of hours playing games like Asteroids, Solaris, Space Invaders, and the like on my Atari 2600, so you’d think when the 8-bit era came around, I would’ve been all over the games that carried the shmup torch. Instead, I found them all to be repetitive and boring. Now, I know full well that to shmup fans, my statement must be hilarious when I’d also admit to loving JRPGs and not minding grinding one bit. Lots of people find JRPGs, and grinding in particular, repetitive and boring. I totally get that. In the end, Gradius simply suffers from being a game from a genre I just happen to not enjoy very much.

It also suffers from the fact that I didn’t play it as a kid for more than 30 seconds. I don’t know what it is with scrolling shooters in particular, but my reaction is visceral. I’ve tried a bunch of them, especially for the NES and, to a lesser extent, the Genesis. Almost everytime, I’ve tried them simply because the title sounds cool, only to be greated by some nondescript spaceship equipped with a pea-shooter, and then it was like my finger just coundn’t find the power button fast enough.

For whatever reason, shmups just don’t trigger the pleasure centers of my brain the way other genres do, but what is clear is that Gradius definitely did trigger those pleasure centers in quite a few of your brains. You might be surprised how high the game ranked in the end. I certainly was, but before we get to that, what did the people who listed the game have to say about it? Well, @BigJonathan91 had an experience similar to mine when it came to shmups, but received Gradius in a completely different way.

Apart from Galaga, Galaxian and Asteroids, I completely missed space shooters. When I started retro-collecting, this is one of the first games I grabbed that I knew nothing about. Now I know it’s the classic SHMUP formula done very well. I still suck at it, but, hey, at least I played it. So should you.

@rizzardcore echoed some of those thoughts on the concept of “shmup formula.”

Gradius was an early example of how the classic Space Invaders/Galaxian/Galaga formula could be so much more with side-scrolling and vertically scrolling levels and powerups.  This game is a must-play for any SHMUP fan.

So that’s two resounding endorsements for the game, and they made me think that maybe I was being a little unfair to it. Sure, I don’t really like the genre, but when I played Gradius, I had some specific complaints: not enough variety in the enemies, not enough variety in the power-ups, unmemorable music, and boring bosses. To me, all of that is true; however, all of that is arguably also true for Super Mario Bros (except for the music and maybe the enemies). This is where I had to remind myself that Gradius came out in 1985 for the arcades and 1986 for the NES (the two versions I played for this).

For fun, I had a look at all the NES games that came out in 1986 and 1985. Here’s my complete list of NES games that came out the same year or before Gradius that I think were better than Gradius: Super Mario Bros, Ninja Kid, Gauntlet, and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. That’s it. 4 games. Couple this with the fact that, honestly, compared to any game that came before it that you would label a shmup, Gradius was lightyears ahead in terms of graphics, music, and enemy and weapon variation. For it’s time, Gradius really was to shmups what Super Mario Bros was to platformers. With that, I find myself having constructed some sort of bizarre, yet fairly convincing argument in favour of playing a game I hated from a genre I don’t like. I’m not sure what just happened or whether I’m comfortable with it, but there you go.

Konami Code

Also, if you care about that sort of thing, Gradius was the first game to use the Konami code. I guess you could justify playing it for that too, though I totally forgot that fact. It sure would’ve made the task of beating the game a lot easier for me.

Listen, I don’t like Gradius. I sincerely and completely dislike it. Seriously, but you should absolutely play it at least once, EVEN IF you, like me, don’t like shmups. But look don’t take my awful words for it, here’s @LumpztheClown on why he listed the game:

The FIRST time I ever played Gradius was when my parents took me to my very first Pizza Party at ShowBiz Pizza Place (since swallowed up by Chuck E. Cheese)!  My friends and I, loaded up on sugar and adrenaline, peeped the animatronic show with Billy Bob and Friends, then trotted off to the arcade section to blast our parent’s hard-earned money.  I round the corner and staring back at me is a machine I never saw before: Gradius! I sat back and watched the attract mode and was blown away by the fast, side-scrolling action that I was being bombarded with!  After throwing in my quarter, my eardrums were assaulted with  an amazing musical score, followed shortly after by seemingly countless waves of enemies, countless power-ups and PLENTY of obstacles!  I didn’t care about “volcano passes” or anything else!  All I cared about was destroying EVERYTHING on screen!

Gradius is one of Konami’s early efforts and I would HIGHLY recommend this game to anyone who is curious about the exceptional world of shmups!  I would recommend starting out with the original trilogy first, to be honest, as they seem to help set a precedent for fast action and add a new layer of excitement to “space games”, then go from there!

So there you have it. Gradius made the cut. It made the Game Overkill list of every retro game everyone should play at least once and I somehow managed to convince myself it deserves to have made it… maybe… it still woudn’t be on my personal list. Also, I will never believe that it deserves the placement it got on the overall list. Gradius undeservedly gets 54th place, but, as I’ve said before, this isn’t my list, it’s your list. If you don’t like where it landed, don’t blame me. Blame the people who listed it. I certainly do.

So, what do YOU think? Does it deserve its spot? And don’t forget to share your stories with the game.

Oh, I almost forgot, the Moai were kinda cool. I’ll give the game that.

Gradius - Moai

I choose to believe that the moai are belching bubbles at you. Toxic space bubbles or something.

So the next game will be God of War for the PS2 (but feel free to play it on the PS3 or Vita if that’s all you have). Not sure when I’ll be done, but I’ve already started. After that, I’m going with Doom. A horror-themed game just in time for Halloween!