Destroy the Core!Konami's Gradius (also called Nemesis in some incarnations) is one of the seminal side-scrolling Shoot 'em Up series. The player controls the Vic Viper, a small starfighter, and faces off against the forces of the Bacterions, and generally destroys everything. Its most recent installment is Gradius V for the Playstation 2 — there are many Gaiden Games, however, so the total game count is enormously larger than five.The Power-Up scheme in Gradius is unusually involved, and was particularly so for its time — destroying an entire enemy wave (or special Palette Swap enemies) drops a glowing token. Collecting tokens advances a counter along a track. The player may elect to purchase the powerup currently pointed to by the counter, which resets the counter to the beginning. Essentially, powerups in Gradius are currency; this is in contrast to the system later used by R-Type, where there were multiple types of powerup each with a specific application; other shooters would typically copy one of these two systems. The traditional sequence is Speed Up, Missile, Double (a bidirectional cannon), Laser, Option, and Shield. It is because of Gradius that "Option" is often used to describe a powerup that provides the player with an Attack Drone.The first Gradius was released in 1985, but in a real-life Retcon, the 1981 game Scramble was declared part of the series in Gradius Galaxies.Compare Parodius, which is Konami taking this series and giving it a Cute 'em Up redesign. And pumped with enough LSD to drop an elephant. Also compare Otomedius, an anime parody series which has a lot of breasts and Fanservice.
Awesome, but Impractical - The flame thrower weapon in the Nemesis series and Gradius V. Sure it's powerful, but it has such short range that you have to put yourself in harm's way to get the most of it, and it's practically worthless against Core bosses.
In Salamander 2, you could do rolls like in later entries in the Thunder Force series. And like in Thunder Force, it does nothing but look stylish.
Bandit Mook - Option Hunters/Thieves will steal away your options if they touch you or your options, but they cannot destroy you or be destroyed.
Big Bad - Bacterion in most games; Dr. Venom in Nemesis 2 and 3 on the MSX and in ReBirth.
Doom in Salamander 2.
The Lars Empire in Gradius NEO/Imperial.
For those who don't know, the Lars Empire is an evil human empire that has obtained the ancient Gradian and Bacterian technology in a time which takes place many years after the Gradius/Nemesis series. The only Bacterians in Gradius NEO/Imperial live in the wild, with no Hive Mind to guide them, and the Gradian Empire doesn't even exist anymore.
Boss Rush - Most of the games since Gradius II have had one of these.
Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu - Blowing up the Big Bad into pieces just winds up having each piece being able to develop into their own Big Bad. Each with their own attack force.
Collision Damage - Arguably, this is more justifiable when one is flying a spacecraft. However, Gaiden has the Guard shield, which renders the player immune to terrain unless they wedge themselves into a space too small, or get smashed by two walls.
Continuing Is Painful - So you've spent 30-35 powerup capsules powering up your ship. Then you die. Then you die some more because your default speed is slow and your ship is completely ass-naked.
You do start with a single power-up on the bar (though this is only if you died with one on the bar). That's enough for a Speed-Up, which may be just enough speed to survive long enough to start rebuilding. If you're good.
Depending on where you died, you might have enough time to get over to your options, which drift offscreen rather than vanishing, and pick them up again.
Gradius Gaiden lets you rearrange the power meter, so you can, for example, get Options for only one or two powerup capsules each. Also, if you're playing a 2-player game and you die, you'll explode into five capsules.
Continuity Nod - Gradius ReBirth is chock full of references to Nemesis 2 and 3 on the MSX, to the point of being a de facto prequel. (The game is set in Cosmic Year 6664, 3 years before Nemesis 2).
Convection Schmonvection - In Life Force and Gradius II NES you fly between two solar surfaces and are totally OK unless you actually get struck by a flare.
Same thing with any lava-based stage.
Cool Starship - The Vic Viper, of course, along with its cousins, Lord British, Jade Knight, and Falchion Beta.
Demoted to Extra - Big Core MK.I is a recurring boss in the first Gradius games. By Gradius V, it's a generic mook which appears multiple times throughout the stages with the other enemies. Yes, it's more powerful than an ordinary mook, but it's still a mook.
A similar fate occured to the Japanese Life Force boss Gau/Gaw, appearing in groups before the start of the Bio stages of Gradius Gaiden and Gradius V.
Difficult but Awesome: Vertical Mine in Gradius IV. These can be thrown in any direction, the direction being influenced by what direction you're moving when you launch the mines. Clumsy at first, but once you learn how to throw mines effectively, you can easily hit hard-to-reach enemies and turn bosses into mechanical Swiss cheese very quickly.
Dramatic Disappearing Display: Oddly enough in the NES version of Gradius II, the HUD at the bottom disappears completely when fighting certain bosses, but not others. This may have been invoked because of the lack of free tiles for the boss and the HUD in those places.
Dub Name Change - In Gradius III for the SNES. Several bosses mayors get renamed: Big Core mkII to Ice Ice, Crystal Core to Monarch, among others. The Vic Viper itself is called "Modulated Artillery Exalter" (or M.A.X.). The NES version called the Vic Viper "Warp Rattler".
Evil Is Visceral - The final boss in each game tends to be some sort of brain, or a head with a very big brain. The entirety of Life Force is also this.
"Fantastic Voyage" Plot - Life Force establishes itself to be set inside a giant alien life-form which is infected by a strain of bacteria. In the Japanese version, you must destroy a Planet Eater from the inside.
Faster-Than-Light Travel - According to the Gradius Gaidenmanual, the Vic Viper and its three sibling ships are capable of traveling at five times the speed of light. This could explain why they are completely unaffected by the black hole in Gaiden stage 7.
Follow the Leader - A great many shooters followed the Gradius powerup system, sometimes expanding it into a between-levels "shop" where points could be exchanged for powerups, other times using it verbatim.
Fly-at-the-Camera Ending - Played straight in the NES version of Gradius, Inverted in the rest of the games which show the Vic Viper or any other of the space fighters fly out of the camera and back to planet Gradius.
Gaiden Game - The aptly-named Gradius Gaiden, though if you're looking for a real Gaiden Game, check out the MSX Gradius series (Salamander, Nemesis 2, and Nemesis 3), which has a completely different and more detailed plot from the main series, and introduces several features not seen in future games, save for a remake of Nemesis 2 called Nemesis '90 Kai.
Genius Loci - Many of the Big Bads, including Gofer, Bacterion, and Zelos. This trope also applies to the organic planets, which have Bacterians controlling the planets.
Guide Dang It - In order to get the good ending in the MSX version of Salamander, the players has to have a Nemesis II cartridge plugged into the second cartridge slot, get a item that randomly spawns in a set of different areas, and beat a bonus stage. To make matters worse, the bonus stage doesn't load properly on certain MSX2 models.
Gravity Sucks - In Gradius Gaiden's stage, On The Event Horizon, you are chased through a planet by a black hole.
Invincible Minor Minion - The shrapnel fireballs in the Fire Stage of Gradius III AC, the mook-depositing floating Moai heads, the ice cubes in the Ice Stage, the mini-spiderbots in the Fortress, and the regenerating Blue Moais in Gradius IV. Also some of the Mook Makers used by bosses.
Mascot Mook - In the spinoff Cosmic Wars, the Moai represents the Gradian Empire, while Salamander's Brain Golem is the mascot for the Bacterians.
Meaningful Name: "Vic Viper". Consider its shape and how it is followed by the Options.
Meet the New Boss - Bacterion, Gofer, Venom, and Zelos. All of them are Bacterion emperors who mastermind the Bacterian attacks. All of them are located in fortresses/planets. All of them want to destroy Gradius. They command strong armies, but they themselves are weak and very vulnerable. They eventually get destroyed by Vic Viper and explode into pieces. The pieces spread across the universe and grow into a new Big Bad.
Subverted for Venom at first. Even in Nemesis 2, Venom was a Bacterion emperor but unlike the others, he was That One Boss. But then Venom reappeared in Gradius V and in that game, now he's a brain that's no weaker than the other Big Bads.
Doom is an exception too.
Mook Maker - The ubiquitous enemy-spawning devices, some of which are indestructible. And many bosses, eg the Giant Moais, can do this too.
In fact, it states that there is a whole lot of pieces of itself spread across the universe, with each one eventually becoming sentient and coming after the Gradians. Which leads to a horrifying thought: What if they ALL gain sentience AT THE SAME TIME?
My Name Is Not Shazam - The final boss music for Salamander 2 is named "Giga's Rage". The final boss itself is actually named Doom.
Nintendo Hard - The arcade version of Gradius III, especially. The SNES conversion and Gradius Gaiden, on the other hand, are possible exceptions.
Non-Linear Sequel - Played straight with most of the games, save for Nemesis 2 and 3 on the MSX and their prequel, Gradius ReBirth.
It is the only mainline game to allow two simultaneous players.
It is the only mainline game to have a "respawn in place" mechanic. (You can, however, turn checkpoints back on if you wish.)
It is one of the very few Gradius games (and only mainline one) not to have a moai stage.
It is one of the very few Gradius games (and only mainline one) not to have a volcano stage. (Stage 5 could be seen as one, as it features asteroids and volcano-like rock formations, but said formations don't erupt.)
It is the only mainline game to be developed by a third-party developer (Treasure).
One-Man Army - Except of a few games like Salamander and Gradius V, even with multiplayer, each player storms the army of spaceships separately.
One-Hit-Point Wonder - Partially mitigatable by the Shield, but only if it hits the shield instead of you. Then again, the first Gradius was originally an 80s arcade game...
Player Mooks - Gradius NEO Imperial has you playing as a rebel Big Core MK I
Precision F-Strike - In V, exactly two swear words are spoken: by the announcer upon dying after 7 stages ("What the hell?") and by the pilot at the end of stage 7 ("Damn. Nothing's denting it."). Oddly enough, V got a T rating...with the content warning having nothing to do with language.
Stage 4 of the Salamander arcade is hard as nails due to fast-moving rocks, volcanic eruptions, and enemies that come out of the background. The background music, on the other hand, is calm and relaxing. It is worth noting that most console adaptations of the game (including the NES Lifeforce) change this song's tempo to make it more upbeat.
Many final stage themes sound cheerful and almost holiday-like.
Space Is Noisy - As expected from a shoot'em up game where a large part of the events take place in space.
Spell My Name with an S - Are the bad guys called "Bacterions" or "Bacterians"? It's not clear, especially when Gradius Gaiden use both names in the same context.
Is it Lord British or Road British?
Is it Metalion or Metarion?
Spider Tank - The Shadow Dancer / Shadow Gear. In many of its appearances, it is invincible and must be dodged until it leaves.
Theme Naming - The bosses of the MSX Nemesis 3 are named after obscure American rock and metal bands.
The Virus - The Bacterion Empire is an example of this. They are composed of invasive and matter controlling cells that multiply everytime the Bacterian Empire is defeated.
Subverted partly in the Salamander OAVs. Instead of cells, the Bacterians are living crystals that can turn into any kind of creatures. Maybe Bacterion is a huge Crystal lifeform that can transform into a cell or maybe the Bacterians are cells born in crystals grown on Bacterion's rocky shell?
Time Travel - In Gradius V, you encounter your future self in Stage 2 and cooperate with him to destroy a battleship that he took back in time with him. Then at the end of Stage 7, you encounter that same battleship and time-travel back to the events of Stage 2, because the battleship can only be destroyed with two ships.
One fun little detail regarding Stage 8 is that your past self plays exactly like you did in Stage 2 during the parts when both ships are shown, or all four if there's 2 players. If you skip Stage 2 using stage select, however, then the ships will follow a predetermined path, like your future self does on Stage 2.
Unstable Equilibrium: Losing a life swipes all of your powerups, which against a stage or boss that is giving you serious trouble, translates to "give up and exit the game." There are a few exceptions, such as Gradius III (Arcade)'s easy mode and games that respawn you in place and therefore allow you to get your options back. As such, the best Gradius players aren't necessarily the ones who can complete the game on a single life, but the ones who can recover out of deaths from even the most hopeless-seeming of situations.
Unwinnable by Design: Gradius ReBirth — Select Type E, then get either V. Shot or Vector Laser and go into Stage 2 on higher loops or any bonus stage. V. Shot deprives you and your options of any forward-firing capability and Vector Laser cannot destroy destructible walls. Result: -1 life.
Womb Level - Usually at least once per game, since the Big Bad does the invasive bio-goo thing. Cell-levels are also reasonably common. The premises for Life Force and Salamander make those entire games Womb Levels, but not every level within them counts as one.