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Gradius III (SNES) artwork

Gradius III (SNES) review

"Mangled. Stripped down. Butchered. One could easily choose these words to describe the SNES port of Gradius III, then go on to complain about missing segments, cut stages, and mass amounts of slowdown when the screen is packed with too many obstacles."

Mangled. Stripped down. Butchered.

One could easily choose these words to describe the SNES port of Gradius III, then go on to complain about missing segments, cut stages, and mass amounts of slowdown when the screen is packed with too many obstacles. "Inferior to the arcade original!" If this happened to any other game with a bad port job, I'd rightfully be upset, but this is Gradius III we're talking about, a notoriously difficult, horizontal shoot'em up that can easily break self-proclaimed, hardcore gamers in a matter of minutes. At any given time, the screen will mercilessly cram with enemy formations coming from both directions, as well as turrets on the ground and ceiling, all firing a freakish number of bullets. Make one small mistake, and you're taken back to an earlier checkpoint, depowered. I know, the entire Gradius series follows the structure, but this particular title is especially ruthless in its approach, as if the development team comprised of sadists. They don't even give you an option to continue after losing all your lives!

Only the 500% diehards will defend the arcade version. Them, and the crazy people that like to sound as if they know what they're talking about. So the SNES version of Gradius III is in this rare and weird instance of being better than the original incarnation, either because of the console's limitations or the port team's lack of knowledge of said system. Or maybe because they wanted to make it this way.

The most notable difference is how the calamity occurring onscreen isn't as chaotic here, meaning reaching the end is achievable in a decent timeframe, for anyone willing to try hard enough. Polar opposite of the arcade title's method of having you practice for eons for a tiny bit of progress. The jump-happy sand lions are now absent in the first stage, and the dreadful onslaught of bubbles that swallow the once-empty field in the second stage have been reduced to a respectable army. For the best, too, is the gimmicky, speedy, third-person "bonus" stage being MIA, sparing many the cheap deaths due to power-ups being placed next to walls in a curvaceous tunnel. Thankfully, also gone is the torturous crystal stage with its thin maze corridors and giant cubes that charge at the speed of light.

By all means, this doesn't imply that completing Gradius III is going to be easy, just easier than the arcade title. The Bacterian Empire is still a formidable opponent in this outing, putting up a challenging fight against you, your iconic Vic Viper, and your power meter of various and unique power-ups, the latter being a standout staple of the franchise; skillfully dodge stretchy stems in the plant stage, then face off against a mutant fly trap that engulfs the screen with its large body and tricky movements; carefully wither away at the molten rocks that fling super fast from one side of the field to the other in the lava stage; weave through a fast-paced maze of turrets, sharp corners, and rapid open/close shutters in the newly-added, high speed stage. You're still going to die a lot.

But here's the wonderful thing: unlike the arcade game that crushes your self-esteem, even after constant practice and memorization, the SNES title is fair. You will be having the run of your life, dominating stage by stage with a beefed-up Vic Viper, and then an unfortunate lapse in judgment gets your space fighter destroyed. Now you're back at a checkpoint with a slow ship and no power-ups. If this were to happen in the coin-op, it would be a worse case scenario. But this is the SNES port, and you believe you can survive with the no-thrills fighter. Better yet, if the willpower is strong enough, you can make it out of disarray, and on top of that, you'll quickly regain all your personal power-ups for an epic comeback, wrecking havoc through space.

It's just a shame the series as a whole doesn't like to repeat this style frequently, instead opting for creating games that have done nothing but melt players' minds, one destroyed ship at a time, since 1988. That is why I appreciate this port, because it doesn't replicate the asinine experience from the arcade, instead capturing the same spirit that encompassed the first Gradius, which has a difficult curve that still offers a way out if you look for it.

Legitimate. Appropriately edited. Enjoyable.

These are the words I choose to describe the SNES port of Gradius III.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (September 29, 2012)

Alternative header: Cruel Summer

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