'Gradius III' (SNES) Still WorthPlaying?

by Agustin on June 5, 2005 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Last week we started a new editorial section, which will hopefully run once or twice a month at first, with the goal of having it be a weekly recurring piece somewhere down the road. Still WorthPlaying focuses on old titles, taking a look back at what once was great, and seeing if it withstood the test of time. Today we spend some time with Konami's '91 RPG Gradius III, another oldie, but is it a goldie?

GRADIUS III

SUPER NINTENDO
Developer/Publisher : KONAMI
Release Date : 1991

Duality is an important concept in the videogame community. Almost everything within videogames can be reduced to two simple sides. Black and white. Or, in our case, good and evil; fun and boring; relevant and irrelevant.

I was playing Final Fantasy Adventure on my Gameboy yesterday – the old gray one, for nostalgia’s sake – and I quickly caught on to the direction of the story: an evil man, the Evil Magician, is using me, the Good Hero, for entertainment. Being the terrible, evil person that he is, he pits me against enormous, noxious, evil creatures for the sake of his own entertainment, leaving me to my struggles with nothing more than a sudden call: “Now fight!” This man will be the bane of my existence all the way through the final moments of the game, when I will finally bring destruction to him and all that he stands for, and then the credits will kindly roll, cementing my victory by giving me a sense of accomplishment that moves past the simple feeling of finality that watching the scrolling names that simple films provide.

I log onto the internet and read conflicting accounts on the game:

“I really enjoyed leveling up my character in an action game, it was so much fun, I loved FFA!!!”

“That game was so boring the controls were so clunky, dude, it was so weak play Secret of Mana on your SNES instead.”

“Best ARPG of the time. A++”

“Lame, and the remake on GBA was even worse.”

For some reason, our overly opinionated community tends to take a very black-and-white stance on most things. This is probably because the internet is such an easy place to express extreme opinions; we feel no direct reprecussions, besides the slight sting of a well-put “flame”. Either way, when we talk about games, we usually go one way or the other. It’s all about these dueling opinions on these games about dueling forces, and usually one overcomes the rest overall, but one cannot truly exterminate them all...

And Gradius III fits into this concept readilly, with its weaker compatriot Darius Twin standing just behind it, a little off to the side, smirking a toothless smile, readying a gob of chewing tobacco to spit at Gradius III’s back. Gradius III knows, without even looking, exactly what Twin is planning to do, and deftly steps to the side just as a wet, black gob flies in his immediate direction. Gradius III smiles, nods with shame for his less-abled friend, and walks away the better man.

As previously written in the first edition of Still Worth Playing, Darius Twin is broken. It is unbalanced in too many regards; and while it might be easy on the eyes for some, the gameplay is simply repellant. Gradius III, its predecessor, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. And I, a WorthPlaying-ite who tries hard to look at these things objectively, cannot help but see how much Gradius III completely, thoroughly eclipses Darius Twin.

More importantly, Gradius III’s gameplay is as relevant as ever. Though some would argue that the Treasure-developed Playstation 2 masterpiece Gradius V incredibly manages to take the crown as the “best in the series”, Gradius III is still the most accessible, and with the tightest controls. (Gradius IV does not bear mentioning here, the forgettable beast that it is.)

Before Radiant Silvergun and Metal Black changed the direction of the genre, the Gradius games set the bar for shmups throughout the early 90’s. Great shooters from Apidya to (obviously) Parodius have taken strong, even shameless cues from the series, and Gradius III was the biggest reason as to why. While many games were similarly affected by R-Type, the final result of copying such a vague game – one most recognizable only by its graphical style – is simply not as easy to pick up as a game that took its ideas straight from Gradius.

The most commonly ripped-off feature of the game is the power-up system.. Defeating specific rows of enemies in order to move over the powerup selector, but only activating a power at one’s choosing, makes for a great on-the-fly way to customize the ship, removing the tedium of ambling through menus to purchase upgrades, Fantasy Zone style. And of course, there are the upgrades themselves, each a useful tool, and some, recognizable classics in their own right – who could forget those strange orange “multiples” , floating around in user-selected patterns, giving an added bit of firepower every time the item selector was moved all the way to their spot, near the end of the bar?

The major concept that separates Gradius from its imitators is the level design. Settings include open space, forested areas, those damned Konami-required Easter Island-head levels, and homages to previous series shooters Salamander and Nemesis. The difficulty sways up and down, ending on a slightly anti-climactic note, but that could only be seen as a positive; you never really know what to expect. With so many different ways to approach each stage based on item usage alone, there is a lot to be done with the game even after completing it. And there’s more: those with the will may want to brave the unlockable arcade mode, though most of us should stay far away from the difficulty presented here.

Darius Twin has nothing on this game. Both are riddled with slowdown, both have plain, if not unsightly graphics, but Gradius III is clearly the better play. As a shooter it is still as relevant as ever, but with a better (more expensive) sequel on the shelves for the Playstation 2. If you can’t get your hands on Gradius V just yet, this is the game to get – and in most cases, it won’t cost you more than five bucks.

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