This sort-of special version of Gradius is one of the rarest and most sought-after games in Fami-land. It goes in the $150 range among collectors and in Akihabara... and about 50 yen at the flea market where this one was found. (This can be filed under "Why I Like Collecting".)
Gradius was of course sold normally in Japan and was a fairly big hit, but this version of the cart was distributed only as a contest prize, via a food supplier called Ohzuka Shokuhin. The contest tied up with a brand of instant ramen they were selling at the time called "ArchiMENdes" (if you follow the pun).
Despite this (or because of this?) the ArchiMENdes version is definitely a rare find, even in Japan. It's rumored that not even Konami has a copy of this anymore, and if you ever go to Japan I wish you luck searching through all the regular Gradius carts at the flea markets.. (tee hee)
Thx: George Palamero, Mania-X