GameSpite Journal 10 | Gradius III

Gradius III | Dev.: Konami | Pub: Konami | Genre: Shooter | Release: August 1991

Gradius IIIís original Japanese subtitle was ďFrom Legend to Myth.Ē Thatís fitting, because the Super NES port was responsible for consolidating its own myth: The belief that Nintendoís 16-bit console was incapable of handling action games.

Over time, any number of developers debunked that particular fallacy with everything from solid shooters like Axelay (also programmed by Konami) to technical wonders like Rendering Ranger. But Gradius III arrived alongside the Super NES in America (and very early in the consoleís lifespan elsewhere), and it fed into the widespread assumption that the systemís low-speed core processor would be a massive impediment to its ability to handle the high-intensity arcade ports that were so en vogue in the late Ď80s and early Ď90s. Gradius III quite possibly suffers from more slowdown than any other game before it. NES games often displayed brief moments in which the action would go all sluggish as the hardware strained to handle too many sprites at once, but in Gradius this sort of sudden time-dilation effect was less a hiccup and more a way of life.

One could make a case for either shoddy hardware design on Nintendoís part or miserable programming by Konami, but you could also argue that the folks behind the home port of Gradius III were simply striving for accuracy. The arcade version of the game wasnít exactly slowdown-free itself, and most of the sluggishness in the Super NES rendition of the game matched up to that of the source material. It was certainly more pronounced in the console version, but generally speaking simply went to show that Konamiís designers had bitten off more than they could chew all around.

Whatís often lost amidst all the complaints about the home versionís technical issues is the significant changes it makes to the arcade source material. While the levels here are fairly faithful representations of the original rendition of the game (minus a few of the more notable set-pieces), the actual number of levels on the cartridge is only a fraction of the stages seen in the arcade version. Space limitations are to blame, no doubt, but Gradius III made some significant cuts to the overall design when making the move to Super NES. Few would lament the loss of the weirdly out-of-place pseudo-3D stage, but several other levels were dropped with no explanation, along with their bosses. In their place was a rehashed bit of material from Gradius II -- which was as good as new for Americans who never received that particular game back in the day, but doubtlessly a letdown for hardcore fans.

On the other hand, the Super NES conversion added something noticeably missing in the arcade game: Mercy. Gradius III is perhaps the pinnacle of this style of shooter, neither as technical as the R-Type family nor as loose as modern danmaku shooters. Itís a non-stop barrage of enemies and bullets, none impossible to dodge but nevertheless requiring razor-sharp reflexes to master. The arcade version was relentless and offered no continues once your lives counter hit zero. On Super NES, the difficulty could be adjusted, and players could resume play in the very likely event of death. That, combined with the benefit of the additional slowdown, means that this may not be the most faithful or complete version of Gradius III... but itís definitely the most fun.

By Jeremy Parish? | Nov. 8, 2011 | Previous: Pilotwings | Next: SimCity