The Super Famicompletionists: Gradius III

The quest to play every Super Nintendo game in existence!

6 February, 2015

Developer: Konami
US release date: August 23, 1991

AJ

There’s one thing I didn’t really think about when we were creating this Famicompletionist concept.

LogicAndTrick

What’s that?

AJ

It’s very quickly going to illustrate how inept we are at gaming.

LogicAndTrick

I’m pretty sure everybody is inept at Gradius.

AJ

I hope you’re right, because I’m downright terrible at it!

LogicAndTrick

The gameplay is straight out of the arcade machine’s “one more quarter” concept – you’re supposed to die, a lot.

AJ

Were I playing it on an actual arcade, I’d be a lot poorer by now.

LogicAndTrick

Well, I don’t think I would. I’d just walk away. I’m all for difficult games, but this takes it too far.

AJ

The thing is though, I never felt cheated by the game – it never felt unfair at any point, it just felt like I needed to improve my abilities.

As some may know, Gradius III is a relatively direct port of the arcade version, with a couple of changes: some missing levels and a difficulty selector (notably, the option to select Easy mode). And I have to say, Easy mode makes a world of difference.

LogicAndTrick

It seems more like memorisation than skill, though. When I started getting a bit further in the first level, I think it was just due to the fact that I had learned the enemy spawn patterns.

AJ

I think that’s exactly the point. It’s like Metal Slug’s bosses in that regard: it’s purely about pattern recognition.

LogicAndTrick

That’s true. There are many similar games that rely on memory and patterns just as much as skill. In that regard, Gradius III isn’t exactly a unique game, nor is it the best implementation of those concepts.

AJ

How so?

LogicAndTrick

In terms of implementation, a lot of it is due to the lack of fine controls – the hardware limits it to a point. An analog stick is pretty important for games like this; you’re limited with only a d-pad.

AJ

I suppose that didn’t really bother me: I was born and bred on the humble d-pad.

It’s interesting you say that about the lack of fine controls though, because I certainly would’ve agreed with you when I first started playing it. But then I discovered the upgrade system, which I believe is the one thing that makes Gradius III unique and gives it a distinct flavour. And also distracts from the pattern memorisation aspect of the genre.

LogicAndTrick

The speed upgrade is absolutely essential. You need to upgrade it at least twice before anything else.

AJ

Oh, absolutely. And the game really becomes exciting after that. I don’t know how far you got in the upgrade tree, but going in with a fully-armed ship is a complete pleasure. The fact that the choice of what upgrades you want and when you want to deploy them is left entirely to the player is fantastic. It gives it a nice little nugget of strategy that you don’t necessarily see in other shoot ‘em ups.

LogicAndTrick

I wasn’t able to get enough upgrades without dying, so I missed out on a lot of that.

AJ

You gotta just swallow your pride and whack the difficulty level right down to easy. And feel like a gaming god!

That upgrade system is the reason to play the game. Strip that away and you’re left with a fairly dull (and outrageously difficult) shooter. It’s not particularly graphically attractive and there’s hardly anything else to the game: no save points, no real variety in level design. The sound is alright, though.

It’s a game made for arcade enthusiasts, and that’s really it. The fact that they replicated the same lag in places the arcade version suffers from confirms that.

LogicAndTrick

I’d mostly agree with that. The fact that Gradius III is a SNES launch title was probably pretty important for Nintendo’s plans. It allowed them to show off a third-party arcade game and say: “Look, you don’t need to put money in machines anymore!”

AJ

Ah, the days when home consoles took a back seat to the might of the arcade. But yes, you’re exactly right. More than a few games in the SNES’ back catalogue proudly displayed their arcade origins.

LogicAndTrick

And that’s really what it is. The SNES essentially killed the arcade machine. It was the time when the home console could perform just as well as the arcade machine, so they were no longer needed.

AJ

And thus began the long, steady march to irrelevancy.

So, I bet I know the answer to this question, but will you keep playing it?

AJ plays Gradius III. Poorly.

LogicAndTrick

I definitely won’t be. To be honest, I was over it after only a few retries. It’s not the type of game that I find fun or satisfying to play.

AJ

Understandable. Though I do still recommend easy mode. I can see the appeal of the Gradius series, but I doubt I’ll be putting much more playtime into it. I prefer a modern derivative, like Geometry Wars.

LogicAndTrick

Exactly. There are much better variants of the game style that are more enjoyable. If I wanted to play a similar game, I would load up Touhou, DoDonPachi, Geometry Wars, Nanostray, or any one of the hundreds of better alternatives.

AJ

We should totally play Geometry Wars.

LogicAndTrick

Agreed!

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