Saturday, February 3, 2024

Gradius: Won!

Gradius's utter lack of mercy for the player is absolute. The prospect of earning extra lives through points, a false reprieve. Take even one hit, and you might as well restart from the beginning, as you'll never survive long enough on your reset stats long enough to get the powerups that will put you back on your feet. what I would have said if I didn't just defeat the final boss with my peashooter a few minutes ago, having lost everything to a cheap trick in the preceding sector.

Still, I think the thesis is largely correct. There aren't many places where you can die and not be immediately overwhelmed on your next life, and even fewer of them are threatening to a fully armed Vic Viper.

I needed four save states to reach the end, and I followed my usual rules of 30 minutes minimum of honest play per state, which is funny considering the entire game barely lasts 15. From the Moai heads section until the very end, death always put me in a state that I could not recover from, and I tried every single time, never quickloading until the last life had been lost. And so the video of my victory, assembled from five segments out of dozens generated by this quantum immortality multiverse, appears deathless until nearly the end, and I am never without my multilasers.


I made my first save state just before the volcano miniboss. Being heavily armed doesn't change my strategy here much, but the lasers and missiles make me feel safer.

Jumping ahead to the core ship of the second area - by now I've maxed out my firepower and bought a force field - it moves and shoots considerably faster, now that I've reached it deathlessly and the dynamic difficulty has reached the maximum levels.

Still kinda easy.

I made my second save right before the Moai heads, still fully armed and with my shields intact.

This was one of the hardest sections to do without getting killed. There's little maneuvering room, several of the heads, which can only be destroyed by being shot in the open mouth, are angled in ways that make it impossible or nearly impossible to do so, and consequently you'll be shot at from behind a lot, which your shields can't block and your lasers can't shoot down.

Funnily enough, it's easier to get through this stage without powerups than with. Your death resets the dynamic difficulty, which helps you more than all your weapons did. Even the boss isn't too bad.

This is followed by another core ship.

But surviving the next part on what little you can salvage during the interim space segment? Fuhgettaboutit. I tried.

I made my third save state right after navigating the Moai heads. Getting through cost me my shields, but I was able to get the requisite six powerups to buy them back during the space section.

Good thing too, because the next asteroid area is bullet hell but without bullet hell-like hitboxes.

It's also rich enough with powerups that I could generally accumulate and hold onto six, and buy back my shields as I inevitably lost them.

The stage boss seems impossible at first - enemy spawners placed in areas you can't hit scrambling fighters nonstop, and then big heavily armored robots come at you too?

But with full options and lasers, it's actually pretty simple.

Yes, another core ship appears after this.

I didn't make my save just yet, despite the difficulty. It hadn't been quite a half hour.

The next space section isn't too bad with full arms, and gave me a chance to recover my shields. And then, you start to see weird stuff.


But I didn't find these cosmic horrors too bad - I made it through this section on my first try. Being armed to the teeth and having bullets only approach you from the front where you're shielded helps a lot. Their arms can be destroyed by hitting the red spheres dead-center, or you can just shoot the "brains" repeatedly which causes them to gradually shrink into nothingness.

Afterward, you enter some kind of biological ship.

Again, I did not find this part challenging, and breezed through on my first try, but I can't imagine doing it without multiple lasers. The ship is full of a deadly blue membrane and Viper-eating amoeba that can pass right through it. You can't, but your lasers can, and the fire from turrets on the ground is nothing compared to the bullet hell of the preceding asteroid stage.

I made my final save right before the boss. Good thing too, because I died right after. Stupidly.

Quite an easy boss if you're fully upgraded.


The next and final part - a space city, is no place for an underequipped Vic Viper.

That's more like it!

Even with a save state right before, with a fully upgraded ship, it took me many attempts to make a dent. The corridors are narrow and the bullet clouds are dense. Still, this hadn't been the hardest part of the game by a longshot - that would be the final asteroid section. It's bullet hell for your enemies too, and the narrow corridors mean the fighters aren't likely to slip past your lasers and shoot you in the back.

Until they do.

I kept playing after the the above death. The difficulty, surprisingly, relented enough that I could make it through!

Right after that, a damn CAGE just encloses around me out of nowhere as robots shoot me to death. Aggh!

But I didn't have to go through that again - I respawned, but the cage didn't, and I easily got my revenge on the robots who had previously shot me like a fish in a barrel.

Two tentacles guard the closing door to the final boss.

And, well, grandma brain just sits there helplessly! Her daughter would wisen up and encase herself behind a bulletproof glass panel and install some turrets in the room, but the O.G. brain boss is an anticlimax.

GAB rating: Average. Gradius has the potential to be a good game. It looks great, sounds good, controls flawlessly, has creative, non-repetitive stage design from beginning to end, and "options" are one of the best shoot'em up powers ever. Turning the game into bullet hell for your enemies is great fun.

But getting through the game? Whooo boy, not a fun time! Getting hit even once almost always dooms your run, and there's just enough bullshit to ensure you will get hit unless you've memorized the game or are using save states. And it's all thanks to the powerup system which cruelly sets you back to power level zero upon death, so that it can kick you again and again while you're down. Honestly I'm not sure how this could be fixed - the game is designed around its powerup system. Maybe if dying removed one random upgrade instead of all of them, it could be tolerable?

And I hear Gradius II is even harder.

1 comment:

  1. Late comment, but I see your main problem here - overreliance on the lasers. The trick to Gradius is to know which weapons to use for which levels, and level 4 and 7 are really designed around the double, allowing you to pick off all those nasties that hide in the ceiling where they're a pain to reach otherwise.


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