Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Gradius - NEC PC Engine - 1991


This is the third and final conversion of the 1985 coin-op classic I will include on my blog before the 'arcade perfect' iterations begin to appear in the 32-bit era.  Gradius on the PC Engine is considered by many to be the best version so how does it compare to the others on my blog so far?

It was released only in Japan in 1991 for the PC Engine - it didn't make it to the US on the TurboGrafx-16.  The only western release I have included was published for the NES way back in 1986.  Although good, the five year old game is no match for the PC Engine version.

Gradius for the Sharp X68000 came out a year after the NES release and as far as sound and graphics go, is practically indistinguishable from the arcade original.  The game runs at a faster pace than the PC Engine manages and playing it again reminded my how frustratingly difficult it is.  This version is for masochistic gamers only.


PC Engine Gradius can't display the whole screen so has to scroll vertically.  Sharp X68000 Gradius is almost pixel perfect.

So how does Gradius on the PC Engine stack up?  Well, it can't match the graphics or pace of the Sharp machine for starters.  The simpler graphics are still good so this does not detract from the game at all.  It also has the same slight vertical scroll as the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 version of R-Type.  Unlike R-Type, gun emplacements and such are thankfully still visible on the screen.


The reduced pace makes for a better balanced and much easier ride than the X86K version in my opinion.  I also prefer the soundtrack over the original arcade machine. Additionally, the PC Engine features an exclusive level though I'm not able to get that far without a lot more practice.

A major issue with Gradius on the PC Engine is its bouts of slowdown.  This is not noticeable on Level 1 but can become a problem when the screen gets busy from Level 2 onward.  The slowdown can be a blessing or a curse depending on your point of view.  It can make traversing a busy screen and avoiding bullets a lot easier but is somewhat disconcerting when it suddenly speeds up again.
Slowdown is an issue when the screen gets busy.


So, the PC Engine conversion, in my opinion at least, is the best version of Gradius released so far and looks to stay that way until the mid-90s.  Although it may not be as graphically accurate as the X68000 version, it's a hell of a lot less frustrating.  It also has that extra level over the coin-up.  The only fly in the ointment is the slowdown. 

Example gameplay....

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