Gradius III
by FreezingInferno

Konami has never been one to skimp on difficulty. It's like, if classic games were hot wings, Konami brand would be smothered in hot sauce. Contra and Castlevania are each pretty damn spicy, but with enough willpower and sheer determination, one can reign victorious over them. One Konami brand in particular, however, looms over all the others. This is the metaphorical "insanity sauce" of the Konami brand; sign a release form, gaze upon the instrument of your torture, and commence. At first, it's not so bad.. kind of tangy, even. But then it begins. The flame, the searing heat-death surrounding you... and this is just the beginning. This isn't going to be easy to conquer, but BY GOD you paid money to do it and you're stubborn enough to see it through to the end. Once it's all over, a true champion will emerge; battered and bruised and burnt, but victorious over the metaphorical spicy chicken wing.

So, now that you're hungry, grab a snack and let's talk about Gradius III on the SNES.

When talking about Gradius III, there are actually two "versions" to speak of. The first was released to Japanese arcade-goers in 1989. It had all sorts of arcade-graphic tricks like a behind-ship perspective. It was also sadistically hard, even for shmups; no continues allowed. Thankfully, Konami decided "Hey, maybe we overdid it" and ported their crazy Gradius III to the shiny new Super Nintendo. In doing so, they made the thing actually playable, with continues and difficulty settings. This should not suggest that Gradius III is a cakewalk. It's still a Gradius game at its core, and can have the unprepared player swearing strings of curses. Nevertheless, it's a lot easier to get into than some of the other Gradius games.

At its heart, Gradius III is classic Gradius; nay, classic shmup. Fly to the right, and shoot the stuff coming at you. There's quite a lot of that stuff, and things can get pretty crazy in the blink of an eye. Luckily, you can gain powerups as you go along. The powerups fill up a bar on the bottom of the screen, lighting up the name of an upgrade; like "MISSILE" or "LASER". Pressing a button to "confirm" will get you said powerup, and reset the bar. In Gradius III, though, the powerups work a little differently. When you start the game, you get to choose what sort of powers each upgrade will net you. There are a bunch of preset options, or the ability to mix and match different weapons. This gives the game quite a bit of replayability, as you can go through with an entirely different setup. (C. Laser + R. Option + Reduce= take THAT, game!)

Gradius III is actually relatively fair on its easiest setting; once you're fully powered up, a decent player should be able to make it relatively far, barring any silly mistakes. The higher difficulties make the enemies faster, and add more projectiles for you to deal with. This is only one side of Gradius III's difficulty coin, and the other is the dread disease known simply as "Gradius Syndrome". To explain, hypotetical terms are necessary. Imagine yourself playing this game, maybe on a pretty tricky difficulty level. You're fully powered up and are a space-cruising arsenal of death. "This isn't so tough", you might say to yourself. Then, it hits you. Literally. As in, you lose a life. You go back to your last checkpoint, and all those powerups are gone. Suddenly things are going a little too fast to be dealt with, and you die again. "Third time's a charm", you say. "I'll get through that part this t-- OH FUCK YOU THAT WAS LIKE IMPOSSIBLE TO AVOID!". Now you're raging. Welcome to Gradius Syndrome, you won't enjoy your stay; I guarantee it.

About the only real flaw to the game, aside from the difficulty (and that's more of a deterrent than a flaw) is the slowdown. This was a launch game for the SNES, and though it looks good for the time, the hardware can chug chug chug when you have all those bullets flying at you and from you and whatnot. Other than that, Gradius III isn't that bad of a way to enter the sadistic world of shmups. You'll go from puttering along on easy to a tour of duty in bullet hell in no time. While you're there, chicken wings are on special. Buy a pound, get a pound free. Just watch the hot sauce; it can be a little rough.

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