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.

The Casio PV-16 MSX Computer

I was recently browsing through the Flickr photostream of user JINsMac and came across this very lovely looking computer. Back in 1983 when this was released, home computers really only came in two colours – black or beige – so a bright red machine with cute “chicklet” keys and a joy pad built onto the casing must have been quite eye-catching.

Once I was done trying to decide if my wife would let me hang a print of this beauty in my house, I noticed a familiar logo on the case – MSX! Regular readers might know that I have a thing for the MSX computer range, owning a Toshiba variant myself as a youngster. I can tell you, the Toshiba was NOT a looker, at least not when compared to the PV-16!

According to MSX.ORG, you could also get this in black but, honestly, who would?

I went in search of more information about Casio’s foray into the MSX world and discovered that they didn’t limit themselves to just one type of red computer, they also had models called MX-10 and PV-7 too!

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MSX Zone has a nice section with hundreds of MSX variants, Casio’s included. To be fair to Toshiba, they did produce a red version of the machine I owned but my MSX heart now belongs to the PV-16.

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!

Play MSX games in your browser

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I recently posted about a game I played called Penguin Adventure on my MSX computer. Since that post I’ve been itching to play MSX games again but I wanted an immediate fix. It turns out that this is perfectly possible thanks to browser emulators like JaMSX.

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Gradius (above right) is a great game on the platform and has plenty of exclusive features. Hyper Rally (above left), despite sapping hour after hour in my youth, hasn’t aged well but is still a curio and is worth playing.

Konami’s Penguin Adventure

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Whilst many people in 1986 were playing Mario and Metroid on the NES, my gaming world had a little more Penguin in it thanks to my ownership of my MSX computer. This strange beast, a prelude to Microsoft’s future forays into gaming, was very well supported by a little games company called Konami.

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Konami made two of my favourite ever games. Gradius and Penguin Adventure. You’ll see from the video below that Penguin Adventure had everything – great gameplay, varied levels, gorgeous graphics and incredible music. In short, it was amazing!

Whilst much has been said about Gradius, Penguin Adventure has been left buried. There were no sequels and the brand has little penetration into pop culture. I live in hope that one day Konami sees its error and gives the game the sequel or remake/reboot that it deserves. The game itself is a sequel to Antarctic Adventure, though that game has little merit beyond its heritage.

Many websites reviewing the game will tell you that the main draw is that Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima had his first gaming gig thanks to the game. For me, at only 8 years old, the reason for playing was the sheer fun to be had in doing so.

A few years later, a penguin character called Pentarou would appear in Gradius parody Parodius Da! Pentarou is the son of Penguin from Penguin Adventure. Yes, the lead character in Penguin Adventure was called Penguin. Very original.

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Penguin Adventure Box art image from Game Database.