25 Years 25 Games 11: Gradius III

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.

screenshots taken from vgmuseum

screenshots taken from vgmuseum

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.

2 thoughts on “25 Years 25 Games 11: Gradius III

  1. I played this for the first time recently too, and also really enjoyed it. As you say, the power up system is what makes this series stand out, for better or worse. Thankfully for the most part I like it. My sense of Gradius as a series is that it’s smack bang in the middle as far as shooters go. Nothing in the game is too complex, tough or intimidating, but at the same time it’s not too easy or simple, and the levels never feel overly sparse. Because it’s horizontal too, and there are often corridor or speed sections, the Gradius games feel more like a journey or an adventure than many other shooters. In other shooters levels can often feel the same, just with a new background or colour palette.

    Also, if you enjoyed Gradius III I would strongly recommend checking out Gradius V. Treasure’s take on Gradius is extremely bold and special while more approachable than something like Ikaruga.

  2. Pingback: Now Playing July 2016 | Skociomatic

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