Gradius / aka: Nemesis
Gradius II - Gofer no Yabou
Gradius III - Densetsu kara Shinwa
Gradius IV - Fukkatsu
Where to begin? The SHMUP genre is many a decades aged now, but the genre is still thriving. This is the back story of one of those series that shaped a generation, and perception of what a few buttons & a joystick could be.
Since gaming's early beginnings, games have evolved from basic 2d platform to being a tactile game. They've been fun, as well as challenging.
Pressing Start began with Spacewar (the daddy of all shmups?), Space Invaders (You vs Aliens), Defender (side-scrolling madcap race to defend the galaxy), Galaga (You vs Alien Armada), Robotron (1st Manic SHMUP) & many more...
Then came the 80's, gaming evolved again, along with SHMUPS. More ideas were being pushed even farther, and going new angles in design. And a series that pushed SHMUP fans to new levels, or is that limits?
Konami unleashed a new series @ arcades titled Gradius in 85. It was another SHMUP title, that also used the horizontal setup (akin to defender). But it was unlike any other SHMUP before it. Using an item pick-up system, take some baddies out, earn points, snag an upgrade. These little additions actually changed how your ship would move, attack, and defend.
But unlike other games, your ship actually had a name. Your craft was named Vic Viper. The ship's design is sleek, sexy, and a fighter. Throughout the years to come, this was your ship to start your mission against the alien hordes across the stars.
Only a year later was Gradius introduced to the console market. It showed up first on the Famicom (NES), 2nd appearance was on the MSX system. From then on it was everywhere you could think of. The most impressive version of the game appeared on the X68k. It literally looked like an emulated arcade version of the game, plus its gameplay was fast & smooth, just like the original.
Salamander, Gradius's little brother joined the market in 87'. This was one of the first SHMUP's to introduce two player mode. In this game, it followed closely to Gradius design but it contained a more rush approach. But instead of fighting alone, you could go along with a pal & work as a team from start to finish.
*to note Salamander was brought to the states as Life Force. Same interface, but used Gradius extra item bar.
In addition, Salamander also cruised to other systems.
As a first, the sequel to Gradius actually was made for the MSX in 87. Maybe a test of what's to come? Indeed it was. Only a year later, Gradius II - Gofer no Yabou hit the arcades in 88. *its other nickname given was Vulcan Venture (honestly a weird one) Another new addition was the "Power Meter Select" screen. From this menu, you could select what kind of setup you would like to use @ start. plus keep your choices until the game over screen.
From arcades, to console, the symbiotic relationship worked fluidly. Gradius II hit the consoles in late 88' to early 89'. And a little while later appeared on other systems. Then in 92', the X68k adapted Gradius II. Most notably the design was directly alot like the arcade.
In late 89', Gradius III hit the arcades. This third sequel in the long running series took the meaning of difficulty to new heights. It was more challenging than the past games. Then a few years later, 3 shipped towards the Super Famicom (SNES). There were a few differences with this version of the game. Some bits were taken out, but also good add-ons. Now you were able to fully customize your ship.
*it wasn't stuck on the only line-up
**secrets? there were several hidden goodies.
If you met certain requirements, you could take a trip back in time.
**as another addition, the bonus levels are still fun
With the handheld market gaining a name, even a few SHMUPS made a guest appearance. Gradius (aka: Nemesis) visited the Game Boy in 1990. It was more of a compilation, but a bit shorter, yet still challenging. The game also contained a mix of BGM tracks from past games on other systems.
A year later 91', Gradius II arrived on the GB. Released in Japan as "Nemesis II", it hit the US as "Gradius II - The Interstellar Assault".
*odd what's with the name change?
This time, the game was a bit different, it didn't have any levels or music from the past games. It definitely stood out on its own.
With console's developing different ways of play, Gradius team gave PC Engine fans a taste of their series. Not only that, but the games played smoothed & fast like they were from the arcades. Plus with added additions, like graphics gaining a little revamping.
Also in 92' Gradius II - GnY hit the PCE. Right next to the x68k release, but this version took the cake. Pushing the envelope on what an arcade / console conversion could be. **even adding an opening cut scene, just for the system.
With next gen systems taking games even further, Gradius showed up on other systems. PSX, Saturn, & PC in 96'.
In 96, Salamander finally gained a sequel. After a long hiatus, it returned to arcades, and consoles. Let alone Gradius getting ahead of the series, it really gave fans a glimpse of how gorgeous such a game can be.
Salamander II hit store shelves in 97', within the Deluxe Pack Plus. A compilation of the series from its early beginnings, to its long awaited sequel.
This special edition to the series, arrived in arcades in 97'.
Taking Gradius to the 3rd dimension, fans could enjoy a new level of play.
Add to that fact of being in a special arcade cabinet that actually reacted to all the action on-screen, A true gem.
Later on in the same year, Konami re-released the game "Revised edition".
Adding more of Vic Viper's old pals along for the fight. Even though it was in 3D, the game still kept the HUD setting like the past 2d titles in the series.
After a nearly ten year break (at the time 98') from the arcade market, Gradius IV made its lukewarm welcome. Even though its Gradius, you know its gonna be good. But limitations? Gradius IV is regarded more of a Remix of sorts. That aside, the series made a comeback, and that's all it could do.
In early 2000, Konami released this mix compilation, and later re-released for collectors. Not only was III retouched, but also remodeled. Gradius team fully enhanced G3's features, graphics, and style. Sadly GIV was not much different in this release, just same game with not much else.
**yet G-III was still difficult!
Vic Viper made a return trip to the handheld market. This time on the GBA in 2001. The game also had other titles Galaxies (US) / Advance (Europe / Generations (Japan)
*cool fact - GG was developed by a 3rd party company called Mobile 21. They handled GG pretty well, even though its a trip down memory lane.
Ever wanted to take VV on the go? Own a cell phone? You're in luck.
**just one problem, the service has been for japanese phone models only.
It was announced recently that Konami will bring these games to US models very soon!
Around 2003, Konami released their classic franchises for cell phone play.
Just dl, and pay to play. The choices are:
Gradius (original) / Gradius II -GOFER no Yabou / Gradius Neo / Gradius Neo Imperial
2004 -Gradius finds a new home.
Actually even a new development team, Treasure. (well known for SHMUPS in the past)
With rich history, a classic series, and a classic team. The blend is uncanny like any other. But then there's the "not-so-but-could-have-been" part.
Sure it was a nice blend, just the game missed its mark. Difficulty, design, music all roll on nicely, but this is Gradius (the king of SHMUPS!) Maybe next time things will fare better.
Throughout the twenty years behind this long running series, the music tracks have been far out there.
From over the top beats, to pulse bumping boops. Since those classic times, music in gaming also evolved. Only a little while later did some games gain "Arranged" or "Special Editions".
Gradius followed suit, and has had one of the best follow-ups.
Here's a sample of where Gradius has been in game music.
This group is well known for taking classic gaming tunes, and reinventing them. From various moods, to hard-hitting, energetic, slow-down, and rush. Their style is very unique, and have been releasing game music albums for sometime.
**cool fact, KC is actually Konami's in-house sound team
Konami Sound Team collaborated with various indie to well known musicians, to give their classic games "punch". For music fans that love rock, this is the collection for them.
When DDR hit the arcades, fans went ballistic. But Konami even added some classic tunes just for fun. Within Dance Dance Revolution & BeatMania, Gradius has made guest appearances thanks in part to remixes.
This is the compilation for any fan to own. G-AS contains I-IV soundtracks, and brings them together on 2CD's. And for fun, there's special bonus tracks dedicated to the series.
Gradius V Soundtrack-
Sakimoto, Hitoshi -
This individual has been part of game music as a freelance artist since the late 80's. With a start on various game consoles, and to current systems.
With G-V he adds a bit of emotion, with energy (which the series has always had since day one). But with this album its more of a tribute + compilation. Outstanding work as always, but definitely a listen for fans.
Its easy to see how much of a history this series has built up, within a timespan (as of now) twenty years. This article is a tribute to Konami's "Gradius Team", & fans. Happy Anniversary!