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Gradius III (SNES) artwork

Gradius III (SNES) review


"First and foremost: Gradius III has some of the worst slowdown ever seen in a scrolling shooter. Yes, yes, this is a common issue in early third-party SNES games, and Gradius III was actually the first third-party game ever released on the system (just two weeks after launch.) Even so, the fact that slowdown is the first thing to come to mind when I think about Gradius III is not a good sign. If more than a few sprites or one larger-than-normal sprite is present (which is almost always, and incl..."



First and foremost: Gradius III has some of the worst slowdown ever seen in a scrolling shooter. Yes, yes, this is a common issue in early third-party SNES games, and Gradius III was actually the first third-party game ever released on the system (just two weeks after launch.) Even so, the fact that slowdown is the first thing to come to mind when I think about Gradius III is not a good sign. If more than a few sprites or one larger-than-normal sprite is present (which is almost always, and includes every one of the game's bosses), or you simply shoot your gun when it's fully upgraded, the game slows to a waddle. The slowdown in Gradius III is almost perpetual, which of course is a hindrance in a twitch-based horizontally-scrolling shooter like this.

Even before you realize the perma-Bullet-Time effect of Gradius III, it feels far from impressive. Its graphical presentation is definitely below par; the game relies way too much on a drab starry space background that makes it feel painfully generic. Animation is choppy at best; your ship's laser beams are just solid blue lines that flicker as they cross the screen. Or, even better, behold the first boss, whose giant pincers snap open and shut with all the majesty of two frames. Not even Gradius III's soundtrack manages to make the player any less flaccid; while a couple of tunes are catchy, the vast majority of them fit into that instantly recognizable genre known as "generic shooter techno/rock."

And the level design? Sure, you've got the compulsory laser-spewing Moai head level, which never fail to give hardcore shooter fans a collective boner, but it's ultimately just the same damn thing as seen in the first two games. The rest of the game's environments follow tried-and-true (which means boring) shooter archetypes: desert level, "organic" level, fire level, etc., etc. The only real surprise is in the seventh level, in which your ship suddenly shifts into high gear and careens through the twisting halls of an alien base. This part is genuinely fun, requiring the intense Zen-like concentration for which shooters are played, but it's over all too soon, after which it's back to the same ol', same ol'.

Like every other game in the series, Gradius III is a horizontally-scrolling shooter. And also like all of its kin, it relies on the Option bar as its central gameplay mechanic. You have a bar at the bottom of the screen, showcasing various upgrades like lasers and shields. By collecting the game's one variety of powerup (a red capsule, dropped by red enemies), a highlighter on the Option bar will move to the right. The further to the right on the bar, the better the powerup. At any time, you can "cash in" the powerups you've collected and you'll instantly obtain whichever upgrade was highlighted at the time.

As in its predecessors, this is an interesting system, and functions well. Each sequel to Gradius has added an extra layer of complexity to the Option bar: while Gradius II simply gives you a few new configurations to choose from, Gradius III actually lets you create your own custom bar. If you've ever wanted to combine E. Lasers with frontal shields, Gradius III will make all your fantasies come true. Unofortunately, none of the weaponry given to you is very exciting: is anyone honestly going to blow their load over having 2-way missiles instead of the standard downward variety?

Perhaps most maddening about Gradius III is how the fatal flaw from the first two games hasn't been addressed at all. Simply put, if you're at full power and you die, you are completely screwed. Upon death, every single upgrade you procured during your previous life suddenly disappears. Your speed upgrades go poof; avoiding enemy attacks is almost impossible when your ship moves with all the agility of an outer-space sumo wrestler. That fancy laser attack you spent so long building up to maximum strength is gone in the flash of a boob; back to the piddly-diddly pea shooter you started the game with. Gradius III may as well have just given you one life before a game over, because as soon as you bite the dust once, you'd be lucky to last one minute before seeing the title screen again. This gameplay caveat is incredibly annoying, and most of the fun that one would have in Gradius III otherwise is sucked out because of it.

Now, I won't lie: I don't dislike Gradius III. Despite the unforgiving gameplay and absurd amount of slowdown, this is not a bad game. There are definitely some intense twitch moments here and there...but there's simply not enough of them. Throughout the game's ten levels, the last of which concludes with a ridiculously anticlimactic final boss, there's scarcely an inspired moment to be found. If you're a big fan of the Gradius series, you've already played this game. If not, Gradius III is definitely a hard sell to anyone but the most bored of SNES aficionados. Or people who enjoy pissing themselves off.

Rating: 5/10

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Community review by phediuk (April 29, 2006)

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