GRADIUS / Konami / NES

Gradius wasn't the very first space shoot-em-up, but it certainly became the prototype for the genre after its release. What's great about it is that it was designed with the casual arcade player in mind, not the hardcore twitch-jockey demographic that shooters have evolved to cater to over time, so it's playable and fun for nearly anyone. You guide the spacecraft "Vic Viper" through 7 levels of shooting, though the game's areas just sort of blend in to one another rather than having a distinctive separation. Gradius's "power up" bar was a unique feature at the time and a distinctive hallmark of this series - certain enemies drop red artifacts when shot, and you collect these to advance spaces on the power bar. As you move up there are gradually more powerful options, but you don't have to take them in order, and many things can be upgraded multiple times, which allows you to create a sort of distinctive setup for your play style and also allows you to shift power-up strategies as the level structure calls for it.

The game is pretty difficult, especially by today's gimpy standards, but it's nowhere near the insane difficulty that is the hallmark of most popular shooters. The final power-up option is the Shield, which soaks up a good number of hits and gives you a buffer for navigating the more difficult sequences of the game if used judiciously.

The game also has a number of nice touches not emulated by later and more graphically impressive entries into the genre - for example, the terrain frequently shifts over the course of the level, and the music along with it to keep the mood appropriate. It's a good game for the more casual gamers - the pace is a little more relaxed than most shooters, there are frequent "checkpoints" to pick up from when you die, and the difficulty is challenging but realistically doable. Not too shabby of a download for $5.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video