Wednesday, August 24, 2011

8-Bit Banter - A Challenging Introduction

When I was a little lad, I wished for rainy days. To me, there was nothing more exciting than waking up and having the perfect excuse to stay inside and try to top my older bro's high scores. So in tribute to all the classics, well known and forgotten, I would like to introduce my new weekly chat: 8-Bit Banter!

Each week I'll pick a game based on its influence, unique gameplay, art style, or impact it left on the industry. I'll pick from all platforms and eras in gaming, so nothing will be left behind!

To start off, I picked one of my favorites. When I think Konami, I start running for the cheat sheets. For a company known for its intensely difficult platformers, it was just second nature. Personally, I don't think they knew how to make an "easy" game. So naturally, I spent tons of hours trying to beat their classic: Gradius.

I can't begin to explain how angry this game makes me. I'll admit it right away, I've never beaten this game! Unless you're skilled enough to obtain a force field, its one hit kill. And I think this extreme difficulty is what made me want to pick this for my first 8-Bit Banter.

If you know the title, the short spacy title screen chime probably comes to mind. It's so iconic and unforgettable. But for those who may have never played it or simply don't remember the game, I'll sum it up for you. Gradius is a vertical scrolling space shooter of extreme difficulty. Players control a sleek space ship called the Vic Viper. It plays very similar to early vertical scrolling shooters like Defender and  Super Nova, but introduces a very unique Power Meter. The Power Meter is displayed on the bottom of the screen and shows the readily available upgrades for the Vic Viper. When the player collects a gem, the next item on the Power Meter is highlighted. You can focus all your gems on speed and laser upgrades, or save them up for the all mighty force field. This was a really fun mechanic!

So what made this game so hard? The game's obstacles are notoriously difficult to avoid. When you lose your Power Meter, the Vic Viper moves super slow! So avoiding enemies and their weird barrel shaped projectiles is extremely difficult! Laser cannons, AT-ST lookalikes, and weird tiki heads all want to kill you. It seems like the whole universe is out to get you. If you pay close attention to the gameplay, you'll notice that most enemy ships move in formation. I found this pretty remarkable, especially considering it was a detail I remember from over 15 years ago. It stood out so much because when you see a formation coming towards the Vic Viper, its pretty hard not to panic!

Here's some gameplay just to put into perspective how difficult this game actually is! 

The player in the video is very skilled! Without those power ups, that poor space ship would be crushed.

Sometimes, I ask myself what makes a game fun. One thing I learned studying game design in college is that frustration can result in enjoyment. If the player is frustrated with enemies they develop a motive to defeat them. Its also equally important to remember that too much frustration will push players away. Somehow, Gradius teeters on this border and managed to be a very successful series in both US and Japan.  And this frustration is what made me come back for more, even 25 years from its release.

Some neat facts:
  • Based on Konami's first vertical scroller: Scrambler
  • Gradius was the first game to use the popular Konami code
  • Is a multi loop game. Meaning when it's completed, player starts over with a higher level of difficulty
  • Series contains 16 games crossing nearly every popular platform
If you can manage to dust off your NES and get a copy of Gradius, I challenge everyone! 

Clue for next week's game


  1. The Vic Viper is such a sexy ship name. I want to name my car the J. Jaguar.

  2. I think I remember that game too. I so miss playing NES!!! My favorite was, and still is, Mega Man, the only man of my life. I even own a cupboard in wood that my brother made me with Mega Man jumping on it, of coarse loaded with games for my DS consoles!
    Got anymore for a NES-junkie?

  3. I'm sure we'll have plenty more NES-related posts.

    Mega Man 2 id probably my favorite game of all time. You should send us a picture of your cupboard. I'd love to see it. (

  4. Megaman is an amazing series! Keep tuned, that'll certainly pop up in one of my 8-Bit Banters. There will be tons of NES games to cover including a couple hidden gems that are tons of fun discovering today. Next weeks game will be a SNES game, actually my personal favorite game of all time!

    And yes J, the Vic Viper is a super sexy name. I can o ly hope the pilot looks half as decent as the ships title would suggest.