Gradius (Virtual Console PC Engine)
When you play one of the many excellent arcade ports on the PC Engine like Gradius, it’s not hard to see why this system rivalled Nintendo’s Famicom for console supremacy in the 8-bit era and continued on into the 16-bit generation. I think it’s safe to say that this is the best version of Gradius you can get on the Virtual Console, running smoothly without any flickering and only slowing down when the action gets truly crazy as in the volcano sequence at the end of the first stage. This is an iconic shooter which has been endlessly copied – most often by Konami themselves – with its use of external options and multiple weapon upgrades. At a minimum, this is the one game in the series you should get if you’re a fan of side-scrolling shooters.
Gradius II (Virtual Console PC Engine)
Again, the PC Engine shames the competition with this excellent port of the arcade sequel to Gradius (not to be confused with the MSX game of a similar name, but which isn’t related to the arcade game). The PC Engine was the first console to use a CD-ROM add-on, though unlike Sega they didn’t waste the space with crappy FMV content and instead used it for high-quality soundtracks and voice samples which are included here thanks to modern compression techniques. It’s a great sequel and chugs along nicely despite some often large, animated objects and enemies. Again, if you like shooters and have a Japanese Wii you’ll want to get this, though I expect if you’re a fan of the series you already own it!
Gradius III (Virtual Console Super Famicom)
Well, Nintendo must have paid Konami to bring this third entry in the series exclusively to the Super Famicom and it’s a shame as Nintendo’s 16-bit console simply isn’t capable of pushing sprites like the PC Engine can. Whilst it looks and sounds great, it slows down far too often given how little action is happening on-screen compared to the first two games and I have no doubt a PC Engine port would have been a much better experience. Nevertheless it’s still playable, with the slowdown being more of a frequent annoyance than a game-breaking issue. The difficulty reduction vis-a-vis the original is definitely welcome, as the arcade game is nigh unplayable by mere mortals. If you’re a big Gradius fan and simply have to have them all, get it, but more casual shooter fans should probably stick with the PC Engine for their fix.