I did not play enough Konami games back in the day. That should be obvious with this entry in this series and especially the next. There is no denying their mastery of 8 and 16-bit games. Gradius III is not the most impressive SNES game, but considering that it was a launch title for the system it is more than respectable. In fact, it is a great game.
It is hard for me to judge shooters. They all play somewhat similarly and I don’t play enough of them to adequately articulate why some are better than others. They are difficult, but that is by and large part of the genre. They are designed to be challenging. Gradius III has some problems common to SNES games, such as slowdown when the action gets too hectic, and it doesn’t seem to take full advantage of the SNES’s power, again likely due to it being a launch title, but it is still a blast to play.
Both the greatest strength and the weakness of the Gradius series is its power up system. Unlike many shmups, instead of just changing up your shooting pattern and strength, Gradius gives the player a multitude of uses for their power ups. This leads to a very progressive power up system, where the player’s ship is continually getting stronger. You can increase your speed, get a better laser, get bits that shoot when you do, shoot missiles as well as laser; by the time the Vic Viper is fully powered up the player can simply lay waste to everything on the screen. It is immensely satisfying to go from a ship with a pea shooter to that marvel of destruction. It really lends a feeling of accomplishment and makes the game considerably easier. The problem is that when you die you lose all of those power ups, reverting to that little ship with the pea shooter.
That progressive power up system causes the player’s enjoyment to swing back and forth. It really sucks to lose a fully powered up ship and it makes the game so hard that you might be better off just restarting from the beginning. It goes from easy to hard that quick, from exciting to infuriating. I think the intricate power up system is worth that hassle, but it can be a problem for less skilled players who aren’t abusing the hell out of save states.
Mostly, Gradius III does exactly what a horizontal scrolling shooter should do. You shoot some crazy enemies, dodge environmental hazards, see some beautiful locales and listen to some rocking tunes. I don’t know how it checks out for skilled players, but for tourists like me, players who like to run through a game for the experience, it is a good time. I don’t really have much else to say about the game.