Shoot the Core with maps of Gradius

Where I find that maps of the Konami classic ‘Gradius’ help you to discover hidden levels!

I’ve written many times before about my love for the Gradius shoot-em-up series from Konami (see here, here, here, here and here). You would therefore assume that I’m something of an expert at “shooting the core”. This is very true, I think I am, and especially so for the version that introduced me to the Vic Viper: Gradius on the MSX.

I was recently reading on online post about bonus levels. This article touched upon the four bonus levels that can be reached whilst playing Gradius. “FOUR?”, I thought. That’s odd, I only remember three. The MSX bonus levels in Gradius can be reached by flying your ship to specific points in specific levels. You can fly through the mountain in stage 1, manoeuvre between two Moai heads in stage 3 and fly through two more mountains in stage 4. How can I reach the fourth bonus stage?

gradius stage1 msx

Turning to the internet, I went in search of new knowledge, and found answers over at MSX Solutions. Here I discovered that stage 7 has one final access point to the fourth bonus stage. Better yet, they have a brilliant map which tells you where to fly, and provides the full layout for all of the stages, including the four bonus levels.

I never imagined that a simple 80’s shoot-em-up was in need of a level map. However, now that I’ve seen it, I want more! These images are works of art and I think they would make excellent room decoration. Just imagine having a wallpaper border wrapped around a room depicting the entire epic journey of the Vic Viper. Bliss!

Art from this post is taken from the Nemesis (Gradius) map by Fabio Albergaria, 2005. Original artwork is of course from the Konami game “Nemesis” on the MSX, 1986.

Press “M” to Power Up: A tale of Gradius on the MSX

How many buttons does a PS4 controller have? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know it’s a lot more than I had on the Quickshot joystick that was connected to my Toshiba MSX computer in the mid-80’s. Back in those days, you could survive with a single button, and most games performed well using this very simple control setup.

But what happens when a single button just isn’t enough? I found out the hard way when I started to play Konami shoot-em-up Gradius.

Gradius is known for its “power up” system, a mechanic that allows you to choose which weapons to upgrade whilst playing the game. It’s a brilliant system to use but it is fatally flawed when using a single button controller as that one button can only ever be used to do one thing – fire at the bad guys!

After my first play of the game, I remember looking at the manual to work out how to increase my firepower. Imagine my dismay to learn that I needed to press “M” on the MSX keyboard, whilst simultaneously flying my ship (one hand on the joystick) and firing at baddies (the other hand on the fire button), and all the while I needed to be looking at the TV to avoid collisions with bullets, baddies and the landscape. This needed a third hand.

Gradius MSX

Fortunately, I found that extra hand, attached to the arm of my next door neighbour. For countless hours, we played 2-player Gradius, each taking it in turns to be the others “power up buddy”. As I flew around the screen collecting power-up orbs, my buddy would have his finger hovering over the “M” key, waiting for me to shout “POWER UP!” at a moments notice. This worked a treat and allowed us to reach the end titles on more than one occasion.

A few years later, I had an idea that my 3-button Sega Megadrive (Genesis) controller might work on the MSX. I was overjoyed to learn that it did, and that my days of pressing “M” were behind me. Sadly, a gamepad was no substitute for a proper joystick when flying the Vic Viper, and having power-ups to hand simply wasn’t enough to make the switch permanent.

New gamers today have little idea how lucky they are to be sat on their couch, staring at 40″ screens, playing games without wires and with enough buttons to do anything the developer desires of them. Back in those days you had to hire help to power up!

How to play Konami’s Gradius on the NES

If I could only ever play one video game for the rest of my life, I would unquestionably pick the first Gradius game. It isn’t the best shooter ever created, nor the longest, deepest or most challenging, but it was the first to truly captivate me and I’ve been a die-hard fan of the series for almost 30 years now. All that said, until recently I was not aware that the ship I’ve always known as the Vic Viper was called the Warp Rattler when the NES version hit American shores. I also didn’t know that the ship’s best power-up, the dopple-ganger Option was called a Sidewinder!


I discoverd this new (to me) information in a PDF file of the original NES game manual that came with the US release. The Americanized guide also has some great hand-drawn sketches of the game levels and info about what to expect from those stages. For example, the second “Stonehenge” stage is an artificially constructed asteroid belt created as a galactic fighter base. The fourth “Moai Head” stage proves most interesting – I always believed that it was the heads that were firing at me as I flew through the level but this guide suggests that the heads are merely statues, utilised by the attacking forces as bases for their own deadly ion guns!


Here is what your screen will look like:- complete with the “Enemy land fortress”.

The best part of the guide has to be the Characters and Components of the Game which names many of the enemies you’ll encounter in-game. The Pride of the Gradius Defense Force will take on Fan’s (the neutral zone patrol crafts!), Rugurr’s, Garrun’s, Dakker’s and Jumpers – and that’s all before you’ve left the Volcanic stage! The real threat of course comes from the Big Core Fighters at the end of each level.


With all those enemy units in your path, I’m just pleased that the writers of this manual took the time to highlight the placement of both your search and navigation lights. I’d have been lost without those…

Let’s Paint a Scene from Gradius

As a huge fan of the Gradius series of games, I’m always more than happy to see a little fan-art for my favourite shooter and this piece by artist ScepterDPinoy is really cool! You don’t often see paintings based on in-game footage, making this scene from the first level of the first game, something of a rarity.

For more Gradius art, why not take a look at my Love Gradius Tumblr.