The Gradius games have always been near and dear to me, as the first game in the series was one of the first experiences I've ever had with shooties. I remember fondly of the days my friends and I spent playing through it on my NES. The music was excellent, the gameplay was blistering and it had plenty of panic stricken moments with bosses shooting hundreds of lasers at you! It was an awesome game. Soon after we discovered Life Force for NES, and this time it was a similar shooter with some vertical levels along with the horizontal basic stages found in Gradius. I always assumed that this was the sequel to Gradius as the ship was similar, the power ups were slightly changed, but very like Gradius. It's just this one is 2 players simultaneous!!
But I was shocked to find out that Life Force wasn't technically a sequel to Gradius. It was more of a spin off series of it's own. A monster known as Salamander. Perhaps for another post. ;)
Then I was even more shocked to see that the Super NES was to be launched with a very interesting launch title: Gradius III!! Wait!? Gradius III is coming out for the 16-bit SNES? We only got Gradius and Life Force. Where is Gradius II? Was Konami trying to pull the old "American's are too stupid to know it's not the official Gradius II."
My time with Gradius III was an excellent experience. There was the returning amazing tunes and great gameplay we came to expect from each and every Konami release, but this time something else was included with this release. TONS OF SLOW DOWN!! I was a straight up SNERD for most of my childhood, so maybe I just never realized it before, and really it doesn't completely cripple the game, but this game was SLOW!! Gradius III had several sprites on screen all at the same time and this caused the SNES chip to slow down at times. It actually helped me get through some pretty sticky situations as the enemies slowed down so much it gave my slow brain a moment to asses the situation and move or shoot accordingly. I became used to it after a while as I found this game to be an excellent addition to the series and passed it off as another quality title.
But, it always left me a bit empty..... Where was Gradius II?
Fast forward to the years of OBEY!!
I saw a for sale listing in an issue of EGM. There it was, O_O GRADIUS II!! this title that had eluded me for so long was actually released on a console somewhere in the world (of course in Japan!). I quickly called the 800 # and had purchased a copy of this gem! I was really excited to finally play the trilogy of Gradius! I had convinced myself, that because this was simply the second game in the series, that I shouldn't get too excited and knew that it would probably be a step backwards in many ways. Graphics, gameplay, and music shouldn't be as pretty as the third game in the series.
Well, boy was I surprised. Not only did the Turbo Super CD release of Gradius II surpass the SNES's version of Gradius III in music (Not the biggest surprise), but it also trumped it in graphics and gameplay!!
Gradius II has parallax scrolling, amazing beautiful sprites with DOZENS on screen at a single moment with next to NO slow down! The music is a rokken mix of some of the best tunes in the series, and the gameplay is so blisteringly fast that I actually thought the difficulty was through the roof as I had become used to relying on the slowdown to help me along the way.
The game style is your usual Gradius game. It's side scrolling shoot 'em up. It's got the same power up system, with many of the same baddies and elements from Gradius and Gradius III returning. The bosses are huge, the levels are at times SUPER SIZED so you have to scroll up or down to get to the correct paths avoiding GIANT planets or enemies to get through.
In comparison between the two; Gradius II on the PC Engine has faster gameplay and more crisp graphics, while Gradius III on the SNES has very excellent SNES style music, but has issues with slowdown. Both are wildly fun games, but only one is truly faithful in graphics, music, and gameplay, and that is The PC Engine's Gradius II. I would even go as far as saying that the SCD version of Gradius II surpasses the Arcade original!! O_O
If you've got the capabilities to play Super CDs on your Turbob, this one is a no brainer. Gradius II is a blast from beginning to end. If you love Konami shooters, and you're looking for more Gradius- GET THIS GAME!!
'til next time-