Evil lurks out there in the universe - even after you defeated the Bacterian forces. It's 200 years into the future and Gradius is prospering. But one day, a science vessel disappeared into the Evil Range nebula. This started a domino effect which ended in the colonies around Gradius attacked and most of the planet's army in ruins. Desperately, the Gradius army launched an attack on the source with four ships in hot pursuit. Now only you, aboard your trusty Vic Viper starfighter, can put an end to the Dark Nebula in Gradius Gaiden, yet another shooter in the Gradius series.
Gameplay consists of moving your fighter across side-scrolling stages, shooting everything in sight and avoiding enemy fire, with your objective being to reach the end and defeat the stage boss to move on. You can collect power-ups which fills your power-up bar and which can then be triggered at any time for a specific effect depending on what bar is active at the moment. You can also power-up the Missile, Double, and Laser power-ups to become more powerful, select two new types of shield (Guard, which protects against physical barriers. and Limit, which renders you invincible for three seconds), and even re-arrange what's in your bar.
The game uses 2D graphics with some polygonal elements and features 2-player co-op gameplay as well as the option to select from four starfighters to take into battle.