Classic gaming at its core, I’ve always enjoyed powering my ship up and shooting through bullet hell. If you’re looking for a genre that is action-packed, contains very little dialog and is quite affordable, SHMUPS make a great choice. No matter how experienced of a gamer you are, it’s fun. Unlike RPGs, small children who can’t read will still have fun blasting ships, snagging power-ups, and shooting the core.

Lately I’ve had limited time to game with the release of our new used video game store so I needed something I could play for an hour here, there, etc. Why might you ask did I choose Gradius I? The opportunity.

I really did not get into SCHMUPS until the SNES was released. Super R-Type, Gradius III, and even Darius Twin I’ve enjoyed, but I never had the opportunity to play the NES titles. Naturally I’m looking at Life Force, Guardian Legend, and Gradius I & II after multiple suggestions on social media, WarioMCP, and other NES blogs like 8 Bit Animal and The Quest to Review every NES game as result, I plan on jamming Guardian Legend for my next SHMUP article. Lets get started with Gradius I shall we?

Gradius | History

Gradius I was heavily inspired by another Konami side-scrolling shoot’em up, Scramble.
scramble cabinet

Scramble | Arcade

Originally released in 1981 for the arcade, Scramble laid the developmental framework that Gradius built upon. Similarities can be found in the side-scrolling levels, power ups, and most notably the power meter functionality. Accepted as O.G. Gradius, Scramble gets a lot of the credit when it comes to the actual game design. What Gradius did differently that make is such a success is what put this game design into homes everywhere.


Gradius I | NES | Basic Information


Developers and Publishers: Konami

First Released: May 29th, 1985

Players: Two Players | Alternating

Type: Side Scrolling Shooter

Released on: Arcade, NES, Commodore 64, TurboGrafx-16, NEC PC-8801, Sharp X1, Sharp X68000, MSX, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Mobile, Wii, and 3DS.

Gradius I | NES | Storyline


You are Vic Viper.

You are strapped into the most technologically advanced interstellar spacecraft that the people of the planet Gradius have ever developed. You are the only hope for the planet’s survival from an alien attack.

No pressure.

Gradius I | NES | Power Ups


When you clear an entire unit of enemies, power-ups drop. Red colored enemies will drop powerups.


After 15 power-ups the next enemy will drop a blue power-up. When you drive into it, all enemies on screen are disintegrated aka DABOMB.

Gradius I | NES | Power Meter


Gradius is widely known for its use of the power meter. The power meter is a bar that gradually fills from left to right, allowing you to choose which power ups you will use. Vic Viper’s ship has 6 upgrades, choose wisely. Once you’ve selected an upgrade from the meter, you will start over again with your first power up being worth a speed up. Forgetting to select a power up, looking at your power up meter for too long, or the frustration alone can result in death.

Gradius I | NES | Upgrading your ship

Speed Up


With one hit equaling death, you might want to be able to dodge things easily, I’m guessing.




Solid option but it’s usually as a one of in addition to the next upgrade. Missiles will continue across the floor for a short period of time which is helpful in some some areas.




Using the same bullet as your normal shot, this shoots up at an upwards angle. Great for taking care of a wide area of enemies.




Laser does work. Lot’s of work. Beam damage is significantly more than your standard shot. As you memorize maps this weapon becomes significantly better than double and missile.



Quite possibly the most effective pick up is the option. Multiple shots fired. With lasers you can effective create a wall in front of you. It’s where you want to be.




The Shield is another great option to pick up once you’ve assembled an option, laser, missile combo. The protection helps, I promise. It looks like a “?” (question mark) before you pick it up.


Gradius I | NES | Upgrades Strategy

Currently my preference is to open with an option and follow up with missiles and lasers. Stacking more options later, results in stacking multiple missiles and/or lasers. Grabbing a shield later and only taking two to three speed ups to minimize risk of running into projectiles. In the video below I picked up the speed boosts a little late as I accidentally moved past it on the power meter and went straight to the shield.

Gradius I | NES | 2.5 Minute Video Review

As you can probably tell, I painstakingly like this game.

It’s tough game in the later stages, but you can make it easier with the legendary Konami code.

Gradius I | NES | Konami Code

Gradius was the first game to use the Konami code:

NES Konami Code Contra Gradius Lifeforce

Contra, Castlevanaia, & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series all followed. The Konami code was designed to make tough games beatable by the average gamer. It worked.

Gradius I | NES | Game Review

Fast paced action, timely maneuvers, and an excellent upgrade system create a pretty sweet game. It’s not easy by any means, although if you use the Konami code, deaths are far less painful. Without the code, you will find yourself mashing the restart button. I choose not to use the code, masochistic, maybe. I enjoyed the challenge.

The design was a significant upgrade to it’s arcade counterparts, similar games without the complete Gradius package failed to put up similar sales totals. The game is fun, using mysterious parts of our historical past such as Stonehenge, suggesting that they are apart of some intergalactic race. I’m cool with that. The music was phenomenal for the time and I’ve listened to it without playing the game during listing, repricing, or researching games.

It’s one of the best shoot’em ups that NES has to offer. If you’re a fan of this type of game, I highly recommend it.

Gradius I | NES | Music

Part of the Gradius following is a result of the sweet intergalactic spaceship tracks. Konami released limited edition soundtracks with the game and was featured on disc 1 of the Konami Music Masterpiece Collection in October 2004. I’ve included an OST from Wii Guy. To gain the maximum amount of value from this article it would be wise to have it running in another tab while reading the rest of the Gradius I review.

Gradius I | NES | OST

The Gradius Series | Games

Gradius continued its schmup legacy throughout multiple systems and still releases something now and then. Here is a list of the complete series with system.

Gradius I | NES
Gradius II | NES
Gradius III | SNES
Gradius IV | PS2
Gradius V | PS2
Gradius Collection | PSP
Gradius | GBA

Gradius I | NES | Similar Games

Darius Plus PC Engine

ARCADE | Vanguard, Scramble, & Ordyne.

NES | Life Force, Parodius, Gun.Smoke, & Darius.

SNES | R-Type III, Darius Twin, & Axelay.

SEGA | Gaiares, M.U.S.H.A, and Thunder Force IV

There were a lot of great NES side-scrolling shoot’em ups, but none were as popular as Gradius. Why did Gradius stand above the crowd?

Gradius | Rating

Gradius gets a 4.5/5.

(One of my requirements for what is a classic game) Gradius I out sold, outlasted, and out gunned the competition and resides as one of the most influential games to the shoot’em up genre.

As one of my favorite games under $20, Gradius I is a must-have for any NES collection. In fact, the NES side-scrolling shoot’em ups genre as a whole is a pretty cheap and a great way to increase the quality of your collection on a budget.

Optimus Grind