Let me start by saying that I normally prefer RPGs, so for those of you who haven’t read my pre-GameCola reviews (i.e., 100% of you), it should be surprising that I’m reviewing a side-scrolling shooter. The last non-RPG I really enjoyed was StarCraft, unless you want to count Front Mission 3 as a tactics game or something. Either way, take it however you may that I enjoyed playing Gradius 3.
And, yes, Mom, I know that it’s not really 100%. Don’t worry—I remembered.
Anyway, getting on with the review, I suppose the reason I enjoyed Gradius III was that I was able to play it the same way I play RPGs. That is to say that I never run away, never use items, save my money for the best equipment, and am always half-step away from resetting the game if I die. In most comparable side-scrolling shooters, this seems to be the best way to lose the game, as well as the fastest way to find your controller planted deep within your television screen—at least, in times before the Wii.
OK, OK, I used that joke already last month. I’m also using far too many compound sentences in this review. Let’s move along.
The point I’m trying to make is that Gradius III’s gameplay is set up differently than that of the other shooters I’ve played. You don’t come across a big, floating “T” in space that makes you shoot two lasers, nor do you pay money between levels to buy the Mega Crush. Instead, you choose a list of upgrades at the beginning of the game. Gold versions of enemies drop orange things that can be saved to spend on upgrades as you play. Each upgrade on the list costs more points than the last, so the really useful upgrades like shields and options will take a while. With this method, instead of accidentally picking up that stupid Laser right after you got the Spread, you get to choose between your preferred style of gun and laser.
Granted, you’re stuck with the same two weapon choices after you start the game, and, realistically, the only weapon you’ll ever use is the E Laser; however, I still vastly prefer that to picking up the orange-colored flashing sphere and going back to the machine gun after having the cool green homing missile things.
You also get missiles that complement your primary weapon. In fact, if you’re using the default controller setup, you’ll be filling the screen with attacks as you simultaneously shoot lasers and missiles all over the place by holding down the attack button. No button mashing here, folks! Merely hold down B and a constant stream of death will flow forth. It’s pretty sweet, or it’s at least better than ruining your controller via trying to time your allotment of three attacks per second with the eight guys flying by.
The only issue I have with the controls is this: If you max out your speed upgrades, you’ll often, while trying to fly out of the way of things, fly right into other things. It’s especially troublesome in hard mode, since you’re constantly trying to accurately place yourself between projectiles. This might have been done on purpose, but you can only go back on it if you remember to set it as part of your upgrade list.
Gradius III’s graphics are above average for SNES games—the designs of some of the levels and bosses alone deserve a few points. They seemed to be trying for Abadox and didn’t quite make it, yet they’re still good on their own. Each level has a different concept, so if you didn’t like Easter Island in Space, maybe you’ll prefer Intestines World coming up later.
I have to say, however, that even if the graphics weren’t bad, the sound effects and music were better. The music by itself is better than the music of most SNES games, but it also goes along with the level designs to really get you into the game. While most of the sound effects are your standard lasers and explosions, the upgrade list is voiced. Every time you spend points on an upgrade it shouts out whatever you picked, which would have been pretty amazing if I had actually played this game when it came out.
Oh, and for those of you who have played the game before, I took the time to record what the boss is saying at the end of the game. From what I can tell, the programmers just slowed down the sound effects for “Shield!” and “Laser!” at different speeds and played them a few times. He’s not actually saying anything important.
As I kind of mentioned earlier, the game has the standard easy, normal and hard modes. However, compared to what I’ve seen in other games, these are more like demo, easy, and hard. There’s a massive difference between the normal and hard modes of this game, so if I like the game for normal mode, most folks who play shooters regularly will probably like hard mode a bit better. Easy mode seems kind of like “Baby’s First Shooter,” but it’s good for testing out different upgrade combinations.
As with most side-scrolling shooters, the game doesn’t have much replay value. After you’ve played through normal and hard mode, the game is basically over. However, it is fun to play the game over with different weapons. It gets a little bit higher replay value for that, but you’re still just playing the exact same game over again.
All in all, I was surprised to have fun playing this game, considering how rarely I enjoy shooters. It was overall well worth the play, and I would suggest it to anyone, no matter what their gaming background. The biggest problem the game faces is that it can be completed in under an hour, but I imagine that must be normal for shooters. I can’t say, as it’s the first one I’ve actually managed to beat. Even so, it’s a great game if you have 45 minutes to waste, and no one can say they don’t have the time for that.