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Box cover of Gradius

Developer(s) Konami
Publisher(s) Konami
Release date(s) 1985
Genre Shoot 'em up
Mode(s) Single player, multiplayer
Rating(s) Not Applicable (NA)
Platform(s) NES, Commodore 64, Game Boy

Gradius is a horizontally-scrolling shooter arcade game developed by Konami in 1985.



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The player controls the trans-dimensional spaceship Vic Viper, and must battle waves of enemies through various different environments. Gradius is the first shoot 'em up to use the selection bar power-up system.


Weapon system

When gameplay begins, the Vic Viper is relatively slow and has only a weak gun. This level of capability is generally insufficient for fighting enemies, but the Vic Viper can gain greater capabilities by collecting and using power up items.

Gradius was the first shoot 'em up to use the 'selection bar' power-up method, which has since been adopted by many other scrolling shooters. While most arcade action games utilize distinct power up-items that each correspond to a specific effect on the player character, Gradius has a single power-up item. The effect of this power-up item is to advance the currently selected item in a power up menu that appears at the bottom of the screen. When the desired power up is highlighted, the player can obtain it by pressing the power up button, returning the menu to its initial state in which no power up is highlighted.


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Gradius selection bar

  • SPEED UP: This power up increases the speed of the Vic Viper's movement; usually needed at the beginning of the game or when restarting an area after the Vic Viper has been destroyed, because the initial speed of the Vic Viper is much too slow to comfortably avoid enemy attacks. This power up may be triggered multiple times to achieve greater speed, but there is a danger in increasing the speed too much, resulting in a lack of precise control needed to avoid collision with terrain or enemy characters. There are sometimes ways to counteract this. In Gradius III, the player could select "Speed Down" as their "!" power-up. In Gradius V, after five Speed Up's, you are given the option of InitSpeed which returns the speed to its original state.
  • MISSILE: This power up adds a secondary projectile weapon. Arcade versions of Gradius games usually have a separate button for firing this projectile, while home console and computer versions usually use the same button for both this and the primary projectile weapon. In the original Gradius, the weapon is a missile that fires downward and to the right, travelling along the ground. Most Gradius "missile" weapons are a variation on this concept.
  • DOUBLE: This power up adds a second projectile weapon identical in power and firing rate to the standard gun. In the original Gradius, this second gun fires at a 45 degree angle up and to the right. In later Gradius games, it may fire in a different direction depending on a choice made by the player before the game starts. The Vic Viper cannot have Double and Laser at the same time. If Laser is chosen while Double is being used, Double will be lost.
  • LASER: This power up changes the standard gun into a laser weapon that fires to the right. The laser weapon does substantially more damage than the standard gun, and can be controlled to a certain extent while it is being fired by moving the Vic Viper vertically; this can be used to quickly destroy a group of enemies. The Vic Viper cannot have Laser and Double at the same time. If Double is chosen while Laser is being used, Laser will be lost.
  • OPTION: Options are glowing elliptical entities that mimic the movement and attacks of the Vic Viper, resulting in greatly increased attack capability. Furthermore, Options are invulnerable, making them additionally useful in certain situations. All attack power ups possessed by Vic Viper are also possessed by each Option. In most Gradius games, up to four Options can be obtained.
  • ? (SHIELD): This power up adds a projectile-blocking shield to the front of the Vic Viper. The shield is destroyed after a certain number of absorbed projectiles. In later Gradius games, it is also usually labeled with an appropriate power up label instead of the less than informative question mark. Later iterations of "?" include Force Field (360 protection against 3 hits), Shrink, and Limit (temporary invulnerability).
  • ! (MEGA CRUSH): This powerup has appeared in several Gradius games, but only appears on the gauge in Gradius III. In all Gradius games, it comes in the form of a blueish version of the Power Capsule used to power up Vic Viper. Upon picking up one of these blue capsules, all onscreen enemies are immediately destroyed. In some Gradius games, it also wipes all enemy projectiles or "bullets" off the screen as well. In Gradius III, it appears as both a blue capsule, but can also be used by highlighting the ! slot on the Power Gauge, in this case, the pickup merely wiped out enemies, while the Power Gauge version did this, destroyed all enemy bullets, and the player earned points for enemies destroyed.

Home console and portable versions of Gradius spawned the now-legendary Konami Code, considered by some to be one of the defining elements of Gradius. The code (traditionally Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A; variants also exist), when entered while the game is paused, grants the player most of the available power ups. While this is essentially a cheat code, the player is only allowed a limited number of uses, suggesting that this is meant only as a limited adjustment of the difficulty. In most cases, the limit starts at one use and an additional use is granted for each completed level. An interesting exception to this rule is Gradius III for the SNES/SFC, where entering the original NES version of the code destroys you, rather than powering you up. Substituting L and R for Left and Right will grant the proper effect, however. While this is a well-known feature among Gradius fans, many video game enthusiasts more closely associate the "Konami Code" with the NES version of Contra, a later Konami game in which the code can be entered at the title screen to grant the player 30 lives.


There have been nine games that are direct members of the Gradius series. These are: (note that the known platform listings are probably incomplete):


(1985) - Originally released as an arcade game, and later ported to other platforms. It is known to exist on the following platforms: Nintendo Famicom, Nintendo Entertainment System, MSX, NEC PC Engine, SEGA Saturn (packaged with Gradius 2 as Gradius Deluxe Pack), Sony PlayStation (packaged with Gradius 2 as Gradius Deluxe Pack). In some areas, Gradius was released under the name Nemesis. In Japan, a special version of the game exists for the Famicom. It was given away as a prize by ArchiMENdes, a ramen noodle company. The Vic Viper would power up using cups of ramen noodles rather than the usual pods. The cart itself is quite rare, and considered a collector's item.

Gradius II (MSX version)

(1987) - The first sequel to be produced exclusively for the MSX, and the first Gradius to have a graphic intro detailing the plot. Also, it had the unique feature of acquiring weapons from a defeated boss. It was later given a facelift and released on the Sharp X68000 computer as Nemesis '90. It is known to exist on the following platforms: MSX, Sharp X68000. Called Nemesis 2 in Europe.

Gradius II

(1988) - Fully titled グラディウスⅡ ~ゴーファーの野望~ Gradius II: Gofer no Yabō ("Gradius II: The Ambition of Gofer"). Originally released as an arcade game, and later ported to other platforms. This version is completely different from the MSX Gradius 2 mentioned above. It is known to exist on the following platforms: Nintendo Famicom, MSX, NEC PC Engine, Sega Saturn (packaged with Gradius as Gradius Deluxe Pack), Sony PlayStation (packaged with Gradius as Gradius Deluxe Pack). In some areas, Gradius II was released under the name Vulcan Venture. The MSX version was released as ゴーファーの野望 -EPISODE II- Gofer no Yabō: Episode II to distinguish it from the earlier Gradius sequel for the MSX and was retitled Nemesis 3: Eve of Destruction in Europe. The MSX game has extra options, like the ability to choose between ships.

Gradius III

(1989) - Fully titled グラディウスIII -伝説から神話へ- Gradius III: Densetsu kara Shinwa e ("Gradius III: From Legend to Myth") in Japan. Originally released as an arcade game, and later ported to other platforms. It is known to exist on the following platforms: Nintendo Super Famicom, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sony PlayStation 2 (packaged with Gradius IV). The SNES/SFC version is not a very accurate port; levels, enemies, and weapons were altered. For example, two entire stages were cut from the Super Nintendo version: a 3D stage where you had to avoid hitting cave walls, and a crystal stage in which you had to move the Vic Viper through a changing stage, with crystal blocks blocking off areas like a maze. Also, the order of stages was changed. The final stage in the SNES version was based on an early stage in the arcade version. The original arcade version's ending had you defeating the main boss in a mechanical setting, then going through the speed-up zone to escape the enemy base. The difficulty and major boss tactics were toned down to make it easier. In a sense, it's almost a remix of the arcade game. The original arcade version is available for PlayStation 2 bundled with Gradius IV. This game introduced the "edit mode" option of selecting weapons.


(1989) - The first Gradius for a portable system, in this case Nintendo's Game Boy. The name Nemesis was kept for the game's worldwide release. It combined elements from Gradius and Gradius II, as well as some all-new features. It is known to exist on the following platforms: Nintendo Game Boy.

Gradius: The Interstellar Assault

(1992) - Another Gradius game exclusively for the Game Boy. It was one of the biggest Game Boy carts in existence at the time (2 meg!), and was completely different from the rest of the series - most of them used music, enemies, bosses and even levels from previous games in the series, but this one did not. It is known to exist on the following platforms: Nintendo Game Boy.

Gradius 外伝

(1997) - Romanized as "Gradius Gaiden". The first Gradius produced exclusively for a home console, and widely considered one of the best games in the series; however, it was never released outside of Japan. This is also the only Gradius game (other than GOFER no Yabou Episode II on the MSX) where you can select which ship you want to use. Gradius Gaiden includes the Lord British Space Destroyer from Salamander and two (relative) newcomers -- the Jade Knight and the Falchion (a variation of the ship from the NES game Falsion). It is known to exist on the following platforms: Sony PlayStation. There are two variations - the original release, and as part of the "Sony PlayStation The Best" line, which is the Japanese equivalent of America's Sony PlayStation Greatest Hits. This is also the first Gradius game which allows two players to play simultaneously (i.e. allowing two ships on screen). Additionally, it featured the revolutionary Gauge Edit feature, allowing players to rearrange the Weapon Gauge as they see fit.

Gradius IV -復活-

(1999) - Released in Japanese arcades as "Gradius IV Fukkatsu" (Fukkatsu being Japanese for "resurrection"), Gradius IV was the first Gradius game ported to the PlayStation 2. IV lacked the Weapon Edit function of the its predecessor, but it had a bigger array of weaponry than the original Gradius games. Released on the PS2 as a compilation pack together with the arcade version of Gradius III. ("Gradius III & IV").

Gradius Galaxies

(2001) - The first Gradius to be created by a development team other than Konami's own internal teams (by Mobile 21 Studios, to be exact). It exists for the Game Boy Advance. It is known as Gradius Advance in Europe, and as Gradius Generation in Japan. The Japanese version, being the last to be released, had a few exclusive Challenge Modes added that the other versions did not, and had additional an additional invisible 5000 point bonus in one of the levels.

Gradius V


Gradius V was released in September 2004 for the PlayStation 2. Gameplay is rendered in full 3D graphics.

It was the first official Gradius sequel to be released exclusively on a home console. Treasure Co. Ltd (developers of the classic games Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, among others) assisted Konami in Gradius V development. In Japanese first press limited edition, the game included a book indicating inner design, the background, and the roadmap of Vic Viper series (i.e. Vic Viper is the name of a series, rather than a single ship).

A notable feature of Gradius V is the ability to select between different kinds of Option (called Multiples in the American release). There are four types:

  • Freeze - follows the Vic Viper and can be made to 'freeze' in their current configuration.
  • Directional - follows the Vic Viper and can be made to fire in any direction.
  • Spacing - keeps position above or below the Vic Viper and can be pushed away or pulled toward the ship.
  • Rotate - follows the Vic Viper and can be made to orbit the ship.

Gradius V also features a simultaneous cooperative two player mode, the second game in the series to do so.

Spin-offs of the Gradius series


The Parodius series, also made by Konami, is similar to Gradius, but with more cartoony settings. The name is a portmanteau of "parody" and "Gradius". Early games focused mainly on parodying Gradius games, but more recent games have poked fun at other Konami franchises, including Castlevania and Goemon.

Salamander (沙羅曼蛇)

Salamander (1986) is set in the same universe as Gradius. The game is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Most prominently, the game switches between horizontal and vertical stages, one of the first games of its kinds. Also, Salamander was one of the first shooters to include simultaneous two player games.

The first player ship is Gradius's own Vic Viper ship, while the second ship is the Lord British space destroyer.

Unlike Gradius, Salamander uses a more conventional weapons systems, with enemies leaving a wide-variety of distinct power-ups. The NES version of Salamander, called Life Force in North America, used the more traditional powerup bar used in the Gradius series.

Salamander 2 (沙羅曼蛇2)

Salamander 2 (1996) is the follow-up for Salamander. Had several interesting features, such as the Option Shot, the ability to launch the Options as homing projectiles. After firing, an Option would revert to a smaller, less powerful unit called an Option Seed, which revolves around the ship firing the default shot. Weaponry includes Twin Laser, Ripple Laser, and standard Laser. Like its predecessor, Salamander 2 uses a power-up system, rather than the Life Meter. Upon acquiring a second power-up of the same type, your weapons are twice as powerful for a short duration (~10 seconds). The game features variations of classic Salamander bosses, such as the Gorem, Teto-Ran II, and CenterCore II.

Salamander 2's final boss, known as "Giga," is one of the very few final bosses of Gradius-based games to actually provide challenge, compared to the easy-to-defeat "joke" final bosses of most Gradius games.

Zone of the Enders: the 2nd Runner

One of the mecha seen in the game is called Vic Viper, or V2, and is a transformable mecha whose fighter mode resembles the ship from Gradius. The V2's fighter mode also uses many of the series' signature weapons, such as Options, shields, and ripple lasers. It is piloted by the hero of the previous Zone of the Enders game, Leo Steinbuck.

Hidden in the game is also a single-stage minigame called 'Zoradius', which plays similar to Gradius, but with a view from behind the V2.

Other games to use the selection bar



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