This next stage of Gradius II is a bit unlike any stage the Vic Viper has ever encountered. Rather than the usual flight through a straight or open stage at a constant speed, you will be forced to pilot your vessel through a maze-like fortress at ever increasing speeds. Unlike prior stages which rely on developing a strategy to survive the predetermined waves of enemies which appear, this stage requires you to rely more on reflexes and gut decisions. As a result, it's not particularly helpful to provide a walkthrough for this level.
Although the tunnels and paths through the fortress are fixed, you must constantly evaluate the current situation and make split decisions about which way to move. You get one break in the middle of the stage, and the challenge resumes. The stage scrolls vertically, and you should activate a second level of Speed-Up if you haven't done so already. Once the stage is at top speed, you will likely be too slow to safely maneuver through the tunnels if you remain at only one level of Speed-Up.
Rather than describe the stage in a linear fashion, here are a few of the common obstacles that you must instantly recognize and react to when you encounter them.
- Orbs: These giant metallic balls are found periodically throughout the fortress. They are exactly the height of the pathways they roll through, so they leave no room to squeak by without crashing in to them. Your only hope is to shoot at them until they are destroyed. While you are never forced to contend with orbs except for the very beginning of the stage, there are times where choosing to destroy one can open up a path that is safer than the alternative. Orbs can be scene falling off their platform and down through the gaps in the fortress on rare occasions.
- Particles: Some pathways are occupied by a large collection of particles. Particles such as these have been seen in other stages, particularly the second stage of the original Gradius. Normally, it's not too difficult to blast a path through them. However, since you are likely to be encountering these at a very high rate of speed, your chances to punch through them are diminished. It is best to pick one particular height at which to shoot, and stay there the entire time. If you have Options, it's best to line them up on the same height with you to improve your chances.
- Gates: There aren't too many gates throughout the level, but their yellow color helps them stand out from the background. Gates open and close as you attempt to pass through them. When they appear on the screen, they are typically closing, and they will open back up before they leave the screen, making the far left side of the screen a fairly safe bet for passing through them at a good time. Keep yourself level with then center of the gate to maximize the time you will have to fly through the gates. There is only one exception to this gate behavior at the very end of the stage, and it is described below.
- Tunnel: At one point in the stage, you will enter one of two tunnels. Upon entering this tunnel, you will be forced to fly down until the tunnel levels out and deposits you to fly through the rest of the stage. Once again, you need to have at least the second level of Speed-Up power in order to survive this journey. Any less, and you are likely to crash into the ceiling of the tunnel. If you have three or more, you can get through it safely, but you must watch out that you don't over do it, and strike the bottom of the tunnel, particularly when the tunnel levels out.
As mentioned above, there is one exception to the behavior of the gates, and that happens at the very end of the stage. Before you escape the fortress, you must fly through a wide opening which features three long yellow gates. These gates begin to close when they appear on the screen. Due to their size, they don't fully close until the gates are close to the left side of the screen. If you remain to the left of these gates for too long, you will inevitably crash into the gates. You must learn to recognize these gates on sight, and be prepared to pilot the Vic Viper far to the right in order to fly safely through the gates and on to the boss.
Boss: Big Core Mk-II
The boss that you encounter at the end of the fortress looks like a highly upgraded version of the Big Core ships that you fought at the end of almost every stage in the first Gradius. It behaves rather similar too. It flies up and down, waiting for just the right moment to stop and fire at you. When its wings are closed, it can shoot four lasers at you. However, inside the wings, it has an impressive array of guns, and fires fourteen blasts at the Vic Viper. There aren't many safe places that allow you to fly between the beams, although it's possible. When the wings are open, your objective is to shoot and destroy the barriers in front of both the top and bottom cores. When you destroy one of the cores, that half of the ship becomes inoperable. Once both cores are destroyed, the entire ship explodes, and you will advance to the next stage.