Arguably Konami's most classic title, Gradius is one of the first modern shoot 'em ups ever released and the first that used the famous “Konami Code.” Playing the Nintendo eShop port of Gradius on Wii U is both depressing and very fun. It is fun because Gradius is an amazing game that, as cliché as it sounds, stands the test of time, and depressing because Konami will unfortunately never reach such heights again.

You pilot the iconic ship Vic Viper and collect upgrades as you progress through the game. The longer you play without losing a life, the more upgrades you collect, and the stronger your ship is; this adds a hefty dose of tension to the mayhem. In 2014 it is refreshing to play a game where your deaths actually mean something and the game is not afraid to punish you for losing. If you die, you go back to having the vanilla ship from the beginning of the game, a mechanic that would carry over to Konami's other games such as Castlevania.

Shoot 'em ups are generally considered very difficult games and this is absolutely true for Gradius. The game is not long at all and can be finished in 15 minutes, but if you keep having to restart, you will be playing for a very long time. However, the game is never unfair. The screen is never filled with an exorbitant amount of bullets like in modern games, and the game gives you the tools you need to succeed. One of my favorite aspects of shoot 'em ups are that the player and his enemies are on an even playing field. Both take just one hit to die (except bosses, of course). When you die in Gradius (and you will die) it is never the “game's fault.”

It still looks pretty good for a game from 1985. Great pixel art never goes out of style and that seems to be a running theme of Konami's old games. Castlevania, Contra, Parodius, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Sunset Riders, and many more are still visually pleasing today. However, there comes a cost for Gradius's visuals and action and that is significant slowdown. Sometimes, the game seems to be running in slow motion. It is unfortunate that the eShop version did not correct this but that is par for the course considering Konami's present incompetence. The game is not as good musically as it is visually. Tracks largely consist of musical loops, and this is particularly disheartening when you consider how intricate the songs in Castlevania are.

Still, Gradius is almost 30 years old, and is still immensely entertaining and well-designed. I have not played it in years and I am ecstatic that it is every bit as fun as it was back then. If you have never played Gradius or are looking for a solid shoot 'em up to kill some time on your Wii U, I highly recommend getting this.

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Date: 1986 (USA)
Publisher: Konami

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