Gradius (1985)

by Nish
6 minutes read


Gradius (1985) revolutionized the shoot ’em up genre with its innovative power meter system and strategic gameplay. As the player pilots the Vic Viper against the Bacterion Empire, they must skillfully navigate and upgrade their ship to survive the challenging stages.


Gradius stands as a cornerstone of the shoot ’em up genre, introducing mechanics that would become staples in video gaming. Its 1985 release brought a new level of depth and strategy to arcade gaming, through the innovative use of the power meter system.


Gradius, a side-scrolling shooter video game, was developed and published by Konami in 1985. It was the first game in the Gradius series and was originally released as a coin-operated arcade game.

The player maneuvers a spacecraft known as the Vic Viper that must defend itself from various alien enemies. The game uses a power-up system called the “power meter”, based upon collecting capsules to purchase additional weapons.

The game became synonymous with the phrase, “Destroy the core!”, as the standard of boss battles in the Gradius series involved combat with a giant craft, in the center of which would be situated one to several blue colored spheres. These bosses would be designed in such a way that there would be a straight passage from the exterior of the giant craft which leads directly to one of these cores.

The player must fire shots into this passage while avoiding attack patterns from weapon emplacements on the body of the boss. However, small but destructible walls are situated in this passage, impeding the bullet shots from damaging the core, and must be whittled away by repeated well-placed shots. In a way, these tiny walls represent the boss’ shielding gauge until its core is finally vulnerable to attack.

During development, it had the working title Scramble 2, as it was originally intended to be a follow-up to Konami’s earlier shooter Scramble (1981). Home versions were released for various platforms, such as the Famicom/NES, the MSX home computer, and the PC Engine.

Gradius was critically acclaimed for its gameplay and unique power-up system. Along with Namco’s Xevious, it is cited as being one of the most important shooter games, having paved the way for many similar games to follow.

The game introduced the concept of the ‘weapon bar’. During the game, many enemy craft leave behind items or ‘pick-ups’ when destroyed that can be used to power up or modify the player’s vessel. Collecting one of these will shift the selection cursor along the weapon bar at the bottom of the screen. The player can then select the weapon highlighted if they want it. The cursor then resets.

In general, the more useful ‘power-ups’ are towards the right-hand side of the bar, so the player may decide to stock up on pick-ups until the better item is available. This innovation allowed for deeper tactics on the part of the player and for greater freedom of weapon choice rather than relying on the pre-determined power-ups common in other games in the genre.

Gradius was a major success in 1986, becoming the year’s highest-grossing arcade game in London and one of Japan’s top five table arcade games, while the Famicom port sold over a million copies in Japan that year.

Gradius is a classic game that set the standard for future side-scrolling shooter games. Its innovative gameplay, unique power-up system, and engaging boss battles have ensured its place in video game history.


The main character is the pilot of the Vic Viper, a spacecraft equipped with the revolutionary power meter system. Enemies include a variety of alien ships and creatures, culminating in battles against the formidable Bacterion bosses.


Gradius is known for its horizontal scrolling and the power meter system. Players collect power-up capsules to advance the meter, selecting upgrades like speed boosts, missiles, lasers, and the protective ‘Options’. The game requires strategic management of these upgrades to navigate through increasingly difficult levels.


Gradius not only defined the shoot ’em up genre but also stood the test of time as a classic. Its introduction of the power meter system and strategic gameplay has inspired many sequels and imitators, making it a beloved title among retro gaming enthusiasts.

Review Score



Cover Art


Fan Art

Fan Art Style: Normal

Fan Art Style: Retro

Fan Art Style: Modern

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More