Gradius III (1989)

by Nish
7 minutes read


Gradius III, released in 1989 by Konami, is a classic arcade shoot-em-up that challenges players to save the universe from the evil Bacterian. With its deep gameplay mechanics, iconic power-up system, and punishing difficulty, it remains a beloved title among retro gaming enthusiasts.


Gradius III is a classic shoot-em-up arcade game released by Konami in 1989. It follows the story of the VIC VIPER, a fighter spacecraft, battling against the formidable Dark Forces led by Bacterian. With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, players navigate through intense levels filled with enemies, obstacles, and massive bosses.


The game’s plot is set in the darkest reaches of infinite space, where pure evil lies in wait. The Dark Forces, led by the god of destruction, Bacterian, prepare to launch a massive onslaught against the planet Gradius. Possessing unstoppable power, the Dark Forces threaten to plunge the Universe into total war and complete annihilation. Their invasion force smashes the Gradius defenses, and the surrounding planets soon fall like dominoes. Now Bacterian’s evil grasp reaches for the heart of the resistance… planet Gradius itself.

To counter the oncoming threat, the United Gradius World Forces gather all their fighter craft. Half of them form a defensive net – the other half a strike team. But they are badly outnumbered and the Dark Forces easily tear through their thin front line. No fighters survive the slaughter.

In a last gasp move, the United Gradius World Forces send out two fighters, previously considered too dangerous for combat missions: The InterDimensional VIC VIPER fighters. The Fighters take off for the heart of darkness to join the fray that will decide the fate of the Universe.

The player returns in the role of the pilot of the Vic Viper starfighter to battle the onslaughts of the Bacterian Empire. There are a total of ten levels in the game. Stage 4 is notorious for being the first and only pseudo-3D level to ever appear in the Gradius series. In this mini-level, the player controls the Vic Viper in a third-person (behind the ship) perspective and must avoid colliding with walls. Even though the level is completely devoid of any enemies, free floating power-ups are scattered throughout. There are also two hidden levels that are based on the early sections of Gradius and Salamander.

The game contains the familiar weapons, level layouts, and enemies that have become trademarks of the series. Like the Japanese versions of previous games in the series, Gradius III does not include a continuation feature; if the player loses their lives, the game will be over. The Japanese version of the game contains a ‘beginner mode’ that allows the player to venture through the first three levels at a much easier difficulty. At the end of the third level, the game will bid the player to try the game again at the normal difficulty (‘technical mode’), which can loop endlessly.

In addition to new pre-defined weapon schemes, Gradius III introduces the “Edit Mode”; players can mix and match missile, double, laser, shield and “special” (“!”) power-ups into their own custom combination. Some of the weapons available in pre-defined schemes cannot be used in custom schemes, and vice versa.

“Gradius III” is a thrilling journey through the darkest reaches of infinite space, filled with action, adventure, and a gripping storyline. It’s a tale of courage, friendship, and the fight against evil, set against the backdrop of the historic holy wars.


The main characters in Gradius III are the spacecraft themselves, particularly the VIC VIPER. Players pilot this advanced fighter, equipped with a vast array of weapons and upgrades, against the minions of Bacterian and their colossal bosses.


Gradius III features horizontal scrolling shooter gameplay, where players must navigate through various levels, dodging and destroying a barrage of enemies and obstacles. The game is renowned for its ‘power-up’ system, allowing players to customize their ship’s weaponry and abilities, making strategic choices essential for progress.


Gradius III stands as a monumental title in the shoot-em-up genre, offering a challenging yet rewarding experience. Its legacy is a testament to Konami’s ability to craft engaging and enduring arcade classics.

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