If you’re a die-hard fan of the shoot ’em up genre, then you may have heard of Gradius. This game, developed by Konami back in 1985, was one of the more well-known shoot ‘em ups in arcade halls. Now, Gradius has been ported to multiple consoles and platforms, including to the WiiU Virtual Console, which is the version I’m reviewing.
Unique power-up system
Gradius plays like any other shoot ‘em up. You control an aircraft in a side-scrolling 2D environment and have to shoot hundreds of enemy ships in order to reach a boss and advance to the next level. What Gradius does different, though, is the power up system. Blowing up enemies will sometimes drop power orbs which you then use to activate one of your power-ups. If your ship is flying too slow, then you can increase its speed with a power orb, or use it for additional firepower or extra protection by deploying a shield. Some of these power-ups are permanent, others are temporary. But they all disappear when you get hit by the enemy and die. This system makes the game pretty challenging, but also a little punishing, especially when you’re new to the shoot ‘em up genre. On the other hand, hardcore players will probably get a kick out of endangering their entire run with one single misstep.
The Virtual Console offers some little improvements, most noticeably the graphics. The game looks more detailed compared to its original version and also offers some different display options, like the old-school 4:3 aspect ratio or the updated 16:9 ratio which basically stretches out the displayed image to fill the entire screen. Stretching it out on a big HD-tv can make the image look a little blurry and less detailed, but displaying it on the 720p WiiU gamepad makes it look a lot better. The WiiU gamepad also offers a retro-styled menu, which can be used to activate a useful function that wasn’t available in the original version. This function allows you to create and load a restore point wherever you want during gameplay. This means that you can keep on playing with a powered-up ship, by loading the restore point that you created before being blown up by an enemy ship. This makes the game more accessible and less punishing to newcomers of the shoot ‘em up genre.
One big flaw
Gradius suffers from one major flaw that is unacceptable for fast-paced games like shoot ‘em ups. Whenever there are a lot of enemies or bullets on screen, the game tends to slow down quite a bit, like it can’t handle that much action on screen. This can cause some very frustrating moments, especially in the second half of the campaign, where the difficulty ramps up quite a bit. It’s actually baffling that a Virtual Console port of an arcade game released in 1985 has performance issues, especially if you know that Virtual Console is literally made to emulate old games without any issues.
The Virtual Console version of Gradius is a fun shoot ‘em up game that comes with some neat upgrades, but also with a big flaw in terms of performance. Hopefully this issue will get patched out eventually, but for now, it makes the gameplay suffer too much in order to recommend it to anyone.