Birthed in the arcades, Konami's Gradius was ported to a number of home consoles, among them being the NES. While the visuals and sound obviously aren't on the same level of the arcade original, the NES version of Gradius is still a fine shooter.
The thing that sets Gradius apart from other games in the genre is the unique method of powering up your ship. On it's own, the Vic Viper isn't much to speak of, but by collecting red power capsules from fallen enemies you can increase your ships speed, use missiles, lasers, a protective force field, and options, which replicate your ships fire power. You can opt to nab these in any order you choose, so long as you've collected enough power capsules. Will you get your options first or max out your speed? No two people will play this game the same way.
Even with the cool power ups, Gradius is not an easy game and this can prove especially humbling to new players. The game's seven levels force you to stay alert at all times. The main struggle is often surviving the stages because the bosses (which is always the Big Core until the final level) are very anti-climatic. Danger is literally all around you in every stage and dying means losing all of your weapons, leaving you contend with just your standard peashooter. Take it from someone who knows, navigating the trickier areas in Gradius with zero power ups is not fun, even for those who wish for a challenge.
Like the arcade game, the NES version has no continues so when you use up all your lives, you're treated to a nice 8-bit rendition of the Gradius Game Over music, which plays on screen where you died just to rub salt into the wound. Would at least a few continues for a home port of Gradius have been asking too much? The lack of continues make an already hard game even more difficult. Thankfully, one of the programmers responsible for this particular version realized players needed some kind of edge. By pausing the game and entering Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start, your ship is almost fully powered up (everything except lasers) and can be used a maximum of three times. That code would go on to be known as the Konami Code and it just may be your best friend in a pinch.
Despite the difficulty, Gradius still manages to be fun. It's challenging but far from being unplayable. Some of the sounds come out a bit flat on the NES, but there's still some catchy tunes here such as Challenger 1985 (the first level) and Final Attack (seventh level). It isn't the most visually appealing of Konami shooters on this system (Life Force is far more impressive), but it still looks adequate. There are better shooters on the Virtual Console but NES Gradius is still solid and not a bad investment of 500 points. As the announcer would say, "Destroy them all!"