Genre: Shooter
Year: 1985
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Konami
Platforms: Arcade, NES, Playstation Network, Virtual Console
Feeling Like: Making the grade

I just got back from a weekly indoor soccer session with friends who mercilessly don’t remind me that they’re all in better shape and more skilled. I’ve managed to stave off weight gain in my early 30’s (so far…and barely) but it’s undeniable I’m getting slower.

I mean, I’m running. I’m playing cricket and have thankfully shed knee problems that flared up a few years back. Most importantly, I’m still enjoying being active. But I’d be lying to myself if I said recovery didn’t take longer. Or if priorities have changed from winning to remaining injury free. Or if stretching and ice packs are as essential as putting on my cleats.

Gradius reminded me that while I might be getting wiser with age, that might be about it. I only played this last year and I was absolutely floored at how hard it was. Prior to this,  I fancied my reaction speed was passable. I’d played hundreds of games, how would Gradius be any different?

Then I remembered how hard Castlevania was when I went through some NES classics I missed. “Nintendo Hard” was, and still is, a thing. I wish there was such a thing as “Henry Tough” instead of “Henry looks up ways on the internet to cheat because what the hell, how  do I beat these stupid volcanoes”. I mean, surely I’m missing something. A power up? A dodge ability?


Sadly not. There are only two buttons on the NES – not a lot of room for complex maneuvers. Nope, it was just you and the game and you were in the game’s court in the 1980s. Completion could normally be attained in 30 minutes by a competent player, so they had to make it as difficult as possible to justify the price tag.

Gradius starts out simply enough, with a familiar scene; space and space monsters who want to kill you. Your job is to survive and destroy the monsters. Not rocket science. Gradius‘ hook comes into play with the weapon system. Each power up advances your power up meter. When you activate it, you’ll receive an upgrade, but your meter goes back to the beginning. Do you use it right away and increase your speed? Or save up for better power ups? Of course, dying means all your advancements are gone. Of course, I died a lot. You know, due to being rusty, not…getting older. Right.

I seriously wish I could blame it on age, but I’m only 32 and 1 year older than Gradius. I should know better. But I don’t, or can’t. Experienced players can clear it in 17 minutes. It took me twice as long to write this, so I can’t even imagine how many hours of practice I’d have to pour in to do a perfect, no death run of this gauntlet of punishment.

There’s a lot more I didn’t mention; the enemy bosses’ “cores”, how satisfying it is to upgrade weapons and clear a level, how the Gradius series lasted more than ten games, how the risk and reward of hoarding your power ups is paramount to everything. It all works. It hasn’t stood the test of time as one of the highest quality shooters ever, but you could do a lot worse. Just don’t die.

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