- Just as with the original Gradius, the PC Engine version of the game offers an exclusive stage which does not appear in the arcade, or any other home conversions. Many inspirations are sighted for this stage, including the first stage of Gradius III, and the fifth stage of Life Force, but it also bares a resemblance to third stage of Gradius 2, particularly due to the columns as an interactive element throughout the stage.
- As flying through a typical pre-stage, you are greeted by two ominous and eroded statues. They remain motionless, but the cannons and hatches which lie beyond them do not. Clear them and any flying enemies which approach you as you enter the stage. It won't be long until you are introduced to the stage's most notable gimmick: the falling columns.
- Throughout this level, there are specific columns (usually the ones which are particularly long) which begin to decay at the base. Shortly after, they fall to the opposite terrain. So columns which originate on the top drop to the bottom, while columns which begin on the bottom "fall" to the top. Naturally, you must avoid crashing into these columns (moving or otherwise.) It is important to watch the columns and observe when cracks begin to appear on them. That is your cue to move out of the way and let them fall.
- As annoying as the falling columns can be, they still serve a good tactical purpose, as shields against enemy fire. When new enemies appear on the right side of the screen which are too difficult to reach until the screen scrolls further, use the columns for cover. Having a high level of firepower won't necessarily help you like you think it might, since the enemies are equally defended from your attacks by the structures around them. Having an ability to fire upwards is particularly helpful on this stage.
- You will face a new type of enemy in this stage, one which looks like a two sided head. It spins around, and stops when one of the heads is facing towards you. It shoots a blue beam of energy at you before turning around to the other head. This beam can be destroyed with your weapons. Another new enemy is a small pod which absorbs energy before releasing it in a vertical laser that travels straight up or down.
- Pathways through the stage may become very narrow and require that you carefully navigate the Vic Viper through alleys with blind corners that give cannons an advantage against you. Other times, the path which seems to be the safest will suddenly change when columns drop, and you are forced to take a new route. Be alert and ready to change directions when you notice that a falling column is about to block your current route.
- When you are close to the end, you'll reach a point where the terrain opens up and the structures clear away. At this point, be on alert for Duckers which will appear from the left side of the screen, and cross over in an effort to shoot you. This section is very short, but be prepared to deal with the sudden appearance of enemies on the terrain behind you, as they can fill the screen with bullets fairly quickly.
- The very last feature of this stage presents the impressive winged cat statues which come to life as you approach them. Upon waking up, they shoot a spread of five energy orbs at you, two of which can be shot down for power-up capsules (the second and fourth). Immediately after shooting these, they launch from their pedestal and travel diagonally across the screen to the opposite terrain from where they started. The statues can be destroyed once they are in motion. You must pass four of them before facing the boss.
Boss: Desert Core
The Desert Core approaches you from the left side of the screen, but don't wait too long on the right side for it to arrive. Once it crosses half of the screen, it launches two tentacles into the sand above and below it. These tentacles curl around and the tips pop up out of the sand. These tips will be shooting at you as you attack the ship, in addition to the array of four lasers along the front of the ship. There are two cores protected by barriers which you must wear away in order to access the cores and destroy them. Once you destroy a core, the tentacle on that side of the ship goes away. Once you destroy both cores, the ship enters a second phase. It rearranges itself to resemble a more traditional Big Core, with a single core in the middle. In this phase, it shoots two long lasers straight ahead, while launching heat seeker missiles at you from the back. These missiles cannot be destroy, but are easily avoided by moving out of their way. Concentrate your fire at the middle of the ship to destroy the barriers in front of the core, and then destroy the core itself to defeat the ship and advance to the next stage.