The No Power-Up Run Challenge is a recent new addition to the way people can play the Gradius games. To understand how this works, though, you need to know what exactly power-ups are in the games. A mechanic that sets Gradius apart from other similar side scrollers was its power-up system where you collect power-up capsules from defeated enemies and used them to enhance your ship. If you chose to hold off on using your capsules, collecting more allowed you to advance further to the right side of the power bar, allowing you to get weapon upgrades, shields, and the ever-useful Options (or Multiples in other games/regions). The system allows you to prioritize what you absolutely need to have early on during the game.

But, what if we decided to throw that away and challenge the game with just the initial speed and setup of our ship? Would it still be possible to beat the games where you must have tons of firepower unleashed with a single button, and even have a fast ship? That is what the “No Power-Up Run” challenge is about. Collecting capsules is ok (even the blue “Mega Crush” capsules), but under no circumstances can we upgrade any part of our ship, even its speed. Any cheats that increase lives and continues are ok to use (and perhaps recommended), but the full power-up cheat is banned. This article is about how players could potentially fare with this restrictions.

Before you begin the No Power-Up Run challenge…

When doing a No Power-Up Run challenge, a few things have to be considered:

  • The game must be completed from the beginning of stage 1 to the ending sequence.
  • Each portion of the stages must be completed without enhancing your ship, even its speed. Deaths are ok as long as you can pick back up from where you left off.
  • How does the game handle deaths? Is it checkpoint-based or do you directly respawn?
  • If it is checkpoint-based, are there sections that are incredibly challenging to survive until the next checkpoint?
  • Does the game offer continues, or if not, is there an extra lives code?

There are a few trouble areas in a game where a no power-up run could be difficult:

  • Areas where the next checkpoint is a considerable amount of distance from the current checkpoint
  • Areas with lots of enemies able to shoot bullets
  • Sections with swift scrolling
  • Mini-boss and Bosses
  • There may be other areas in addition to the general types listed above

As you practice for a No Power-Up Run Challenge…

If you believe the game you are choosing has manageable enough trouble areas, here is some advice to prepare for the run:

  • If a stage has multiple routes, decide what route you should take before the actual attempt. You will figure out the routes as you practice.
  • Anticipate ahead of time where enemy fire will go. You will not be able to move quickly, so you need to react sooner to enemy fire.
  • Determine what enemies you should DESTROY and what enemies you should LEAVE ALONE. Do not try to hit all of them.
  • Some deaths will certainly be unavoidable due to the difficulty of the game. Expect enemy fire to constantly graze your ship during the run.
  • Some bosses may be better handled letting them time out. Determine when you should do this based on how you can handle each major enemy.

Finally, the last thing is to practice, practice, practice. This is not an easy challenge to do, because these games are challenging enough just playing them normally. In other words, be familiar enough with the game you are going to attempt. Above all else, do not try this challenge if you are not confident in your abilities.

The Games and Their Possibilities of Success

What follows is how I feel about the possibility of each game I have not yet attempted or recorded.

Completed with proof:

  • Gradius II (Famicom)
Gradius II Famicom No Power-Up Run

Completed, to be attempted again by recording/streaming:

  • Gradius (NES) [Continue code needed]

I completed these, but I will not be making a video on them:

  • Salamander 2 (Arcade) [Entertaining to play, but doubtful it will be entertaining to watch unless I play on a high difficulty]

Attempted, but failed:

  • Salamander/Life Force (NES) [Ran out of continues in stage 6, may need 30 lives code]

Theoretically possible:

  • Gradius (Arcade, MSX) [Former may need continues, latter just not tested]
  • Salamander/Life Force (Arcade, MSX) [Former may need continues, luck in stage 5, and latter just not tested]
  • Nemesis and Gradius: The Intersteller Assault (GB) [Untested, but no known sections that could not be possible with no power-ups]
  • Nemesis/Gradius 2 (X68000, MSX) [Untested, but no known sections that could not be possible with no power-ups. Form-changing capsules will be considered not enhancing the ship.]
  • Gradius Gaiden [Need second player for speed section to prevent checkpoint warping]
  • Gradius V [Lots of continues likely needed, speed section has forced deaths, assuming Revival Start is off]

Theoretically impossible:

  • Gradius 2 (Arcade) [Speed section]
  • Nemesis 3 (MSX) [Queensryche boss requires Options and/or Tailgun]
  • Both Arcade and SNES versions of Gradius 3 [Choking Weed boss requires one or more speedups, Speed section]
  • Gradius 4 (Arcade) [Speed section]
  • Gradius Generation/Galaxies/Advance (GBA) [Speed section]

My Attempts at the No Power-Up Run Challenge


Gradius 2 for the Famicom

Gradius 2 (Famicom)

I completed this one via Twitch on June 12, 2019. Gradius 2 for the Famicom has unlimited continues, so I felt the 30 lives code was not necessary here. As a result of losing all your lives, the only penalty was having to restart a stage over. However, there are two exceptions to this, due to having only one checkpoint each: Stages 5 and 7. Each stage presented its own challenges, and here is a breakdown of the tricky spots in each stage:

  • 1: Fire dragons, flares from the stars in second half
  • 2: Cell wall area, Contra aliens
  • 3: Volcano area (especially twin Volcanoes at end)
  • 4: Moai ambushes, mini-boss Moai
  • 5: All parts except Brain Golem boss, Zelos Force boss likely hardest part of the run
  • 6: Really the entire stage can present its own problems
  • 7: Cell enemies, sudden appearing cell structures towards the end

Difficulty: Very Hard

Salamander 2 (Arcade)

I did a practice run on June 20, 2019, which three continues were used to beat the game. I will not do a video on this one since I believe it will not be entertaining to watch. The playing is interesting, though. 5 of the 7 bosses (Stage 2 and Stage 6 were the exceptions), timed out due to battling them for too long. As a result, though, there are unlimited continues for the first loop, so this is possible with no power-ups. The hard part is actually avoiding to pick up power-ups since sometimes the game tries to force them on you, especially with Doom, the final boss. Because this game lets you respawn where you die, though, the overall difficulty is tame compared to other games. If you are looking to try to beat this game without continuing, though, good luck.

Difficulty: Normal

Published by TailsMK4

TailsMK4, also associated with the name "The Tetran" in some obscure areas, has been a fan of the Gradius games for over 20 years. He has recently picked up the Gradius games again, which are infamous for their difficulty playing normally, but also putting restrictions on himself to increase the challenge even more. He is striving to get his skills to a point where he could be considered a "superplayer" for the Gradius games.

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