The game is Salamander for the Famicom by KONAMI, now a lot can be said about Salamander but lets start off by saying that this Pirate while in a Famicom cartridge is actually the NES version which is known state side as Life Force. The title isn't the only thing different about the game its a loooooong story so in short when Konami brought the original to Arcades in N.America they changed the the weapon earning system as well as the backgrounds and some enemies to look more organic so it almost appears your flying in side of a giant organic creature (shrugs while spoken)? KONAMI later threw both games into a blender when they ported them to the Famicom and NES and we got a totally mashed up version. Confused ? wanting a more thorough explanation? well good... but your not getting it here. To add to your confusion the game features the same power ups and ships from Gradius the Vic Viper & Lord British and was even released right after Gradius....but is not a sequel although Gradius has many, instead its sort of a story set in the same universe. This version uses a Gradius style weapon bar that allows you to select/purchase weapon upgrades through collecting capsules left behind by enemies. As you collect the capsules the Highlighted weapon will change when you select the weapon you want the bar will reset back to the first weapon choice and you must collect more capsules to move down the bar t the next upgrade you want. Multiple upgrades can be used at once in combination and some even can be built up twice like missiles or "option" which is a little sphere that follows you and fires when you do.
|The Vic Viper!!|
Life Force/Salamander was one of the first two player co-op SHUMP's. The game also accepts the KONAMI code aka CONTRA code at the start screen for 30 extra lives but gives no indication that the code worked so you wont know till you've started playing. As a kid I wish I knew that it took the code as my friend Chris Z was obsessed with this game and always wanted to play it if we were gonna play Nintendo, to boot he,always insisted that I have a go at it in turn and I totally sucked at it and I recall him even lending it to me so I could try and get better so we might beat it together which was terribly kind but made me loath it even more when I still sucked in the privacy of my own home. Many years later and here we are with me wondering why I thought buying a Big Ol' Box of Pirated Booty that included this game was a good idea..... on to the War Journal Entry....
|The "NEW" War Journal|
The Title screen shows us an amazing bit of title art but also displays yet another example of poor Nintendo Proof reading as the game states it is Licenced by NINTEND of America, not kidding just look at the screens below they left off the O in their own name... isnt that like 200 points in the SAT exams just getting your name right? Oh well.. As soon as I hit start the Vic Viper blasts on screen and the nostalgia hits me dead in the face and the music engulfs me and sends me back to a very frustrating time from my past......
Waves of grouped enemy ships fly at me in tight formation creating a nice shooting gallery feel and leave weapon capsules in their wake. I quickly select my upgrades on the screen below as they are unlocked, I chose to purchase them in reverse order of right to left so I can spend the capsules on the end ones first and get the "cheaper ones" after with little effort. I select Options and Missiles in that order just as the next phase begins. A large arm uncoils from the ceiling of the approaching cavern and is met with Lasered Death as the Viper brings us in to the threatening landscape. Im forced to quickly out maneuver two huge ground beef stalagmite and stalactites which are part of a repeative defensive system of this area. After evading several groupings of them my 20 year old memories flash in to remind me of one that is suddenly triggered and tries to cut me off from the entire screen... I avoid scrolling death and reminisce over how many ships that wall took from me as a kid... Next we move on to blue and purple hues and try to shoot down the fleeing weapon capsule holding clown hats whilst trying to avoid the deadly penis cannons.... what did I stutter? Look at them ....and you tell me how to describe them, shit creeps me out still 20 yrs later. Shiver. Now this part always frustrates me as the missiles launch and ride the surface of the cavern you'd think the enemies on the surface would be easy pray .. But No... The firing rate KONAMI programers setup has you chasing after them in the Vic Viper like Scrooge McDuck after a shiny damn Dime. Gigantic indestructible horns or possibly fangs raise and lower in sequence from the walls as I still burn over the poor missile design. I shoot my way through veins and what look like tumorous sacks to then carve out tunnels to fly through in walls made out of what looks like more ground beef, I stay close to the right as the tunnel is designed to colapse on any ships lingering behind before I can think about how disgusting this game is getting the music changes tempo and the screen to ......
|Penis Cannons... See !|
|MeatWads mother womb...|
STAGE 1 BOSS
A large wall starts to deteriorate and reveals a giant floating brain that grows arms and begins to follow me around the screen. After a quick counter clockwise pass a single eye opens at the front and the classic gaming weak point is reveled. With my options and laser powered up another pass round the screen and with some direct shots is all thats required to dispose of this.....Nightmarish threat? Man I really remember this level & Boss being much much harder as a kid, But I did play this level over and over again sooo lets see how we fair against ....
The game switches things up and now we are scrolling vertically from a top down viewpoint through a canyon of sorts. Im fed upgrade capsules which I trade for more missile fire power to deal with the threat of non-penis like wall mounted cannons. After a short scroll the Vic flies us into a asteroid field which even after many attempts I still can not navigate successfully...I guess C3PO was right. The canyon suddenly offers multiple paths to choose from none of them being wrong but some seems easier than others. The paths continue to appear in twos and threes this starts to cut down maneuverability of my ship and the game take advantage by throwing increasingly more & more hazards and more enemy fire from mobile mechs with missiles. Once again we tunnel our way through a large wall with laser fire and on the other side grab some last minute weapon Capsules to replace what the asteroid field claimed. Soon the Vic Viper and I find ourselves in a large chamber that is definitely more mechanical in appearance. This Boss is very reminiscent of the first stage Boss from Contra and if you quickly take out the spheres at the top the danger lessens of being hit by the blue orbs, some very fast aiming and I'm suddenly a smiling idiot like Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China... the screen continues to scroll and the music changes its tune when my giggling Burton invincibility fades away as before me is the....
STAGE 2 BOSS
A large craft approches from above with tendrils flailing from it making it hard to take out its obvious weak spot located at the end of a channel in its core. A few close calls and some well timed shots take it down faster than David Lo Pan.... Its all in the reflexes.
Its back to side scrolling... seeing a pattern yet? Starting right off at bat I have another chance to power the Viper up with capsules just pooring in from waves of fiery space phoenixes dying at my trigger fingers. The background fluidly changes from dead space to a flame cover landscape and im suddenly sent in to a vivid flashback completely recalling the agonizing hell that this world represented for me as a kid.... I Do Not look forward to this next area as the Finisher may meet his end..... taking down phoenixes, flaming hoppers & even the first Fire Dragon brings me no boost in confidence, I grip the NES Advantage as I did oh so many times as a child and have to wait only a moment before it begins.... The Flame Waves !!! I accidentally dodge the first from below and then the second from above by pure luck. While taking out some attackers I narrowly avoid the third rolling wave of flames and start to wonder if the game isn't playing me.... All these years later and I still don't know if they timed, triggered or.....sentient..... the loneliness of space has begun to get to me as I zone out at the screen and wonder how long it will be before I die a horrible death engulfed in flames or possibly worse, taken by the...... SPACE MADNESS !!! The Flames now each roll three times before the scrolling leaves them safely behind but then the next is always ready and quickly upon the Vipers nose. After making it past several more it seems to have subsided and I can't believe the Vic and I made it unscathed..... zoning out in my thoughts and while somehow focusing on the waves of enimies in fnt of me I start to wonder if its all a trap.... Ive never made it through the flame waves....never.... The game is out to get me......... Space Madness has most definitely set in. Having compeletly lost IT and playing purely on reflexes the Vic and I dodge a couple more rolling waves of flaming death & take out two more fiery space dragons TAKE THAT ! YEAH YEAH !!COME GET SOME !!YOU THINK YOU BAD.... COME ON !! The screen slowly ushers the ship and my co-pilot insanity on to what I can only expect is ......pause......the 3rd BOSS !
STAGE 3 BOSS
YUP! The Mother of all Space Dragons appears from the right side of the screen and insanity slowly creeps outta the room like the coward it is and focus washes over me removing any remnants of madness. Skill & confidence defeat this mother quickly and painlessly thanks to my power ups and lil option friends. NO FEAR!!
Vert scrolling returns yet again and par for course I am handed many capsules for any weapon customization I might desire for me vessel. The scenery starts off looking like just another canyon area with cracks in the ground when suddenly the landscape textures change drastically to organic and the walls look like miles and miles of intestine. Large pulsating orb sacks fly at the Vipers path but are greeted with lasers & destruction insuring me that insanity is truly gone and only the Finisher remains. The scrolling suddenly speeds up significantly making this a Dodge or Die Run. Paths continue to appear before me and I do my best not to scratch the clear coat on the Viper. Its after some close calls and a few lives later that the scrolling slows down as Im now required to blast non-letahl meat trees outta my way. After some time the floor goes veiny again while a huge mechanical spine appears below my ship and it attacks with many projectiles. I surf the spine shooting and strafing until I reach the top where a giant bio-mechanical skull awaits....
|Seriously ? Enough wit the Ground Beef !!!|
STAGE 4 BOSS
The Bio Mech skull is both impressive and threatening looking but is much like the other Bosses thus far and only requires some competent maneuvering to avoid. I concentrate my fire at its gaping jaw and while its eyes fly free and are quite dangerous he still seems to be no match for my fully armed craft of destruction towing 2 option spheres of fire power.
I defeat Boss 4 and pause briefly to wonder if I had only built up the terror of LifeForce all these years or if the true challenges are only just ahead.......
|AHH Mr. Busey looking well I see|
The stage fires up and we are whisked back to a space themed stage and now the waves of ships that dispense the weapon capsules are only 3 ships deep so I can load up on weapons much quicker so I can die faster so I can do more capsules so I can get more weapons so I can die faster... sorry sorry Its a 80's drug abuse PSA reference , I got caught up I apologize. Any way despite the fact that I'm still waiting for the other Fu*k You shoe to drop the stage is progressing quite smoothly. I might beat this game yet.... The Boss shows up and is kinda straight forward but who knows what pattern could unfold. This Boss is made up of three ships and when I successfully shoot its on coming projectiles it nets me capsules... wait, I punch you in the face and you reward me?.... shame on me ... its a Gah Damn Sub Boss... stupid stupid. He drops like a ton O' bricks and we fly on into a Egyptian pyramid... in space? The lay out in here is very similar to the first Stage except it keeps throwing weapon power ups my way, wait did someone back over my puppy ? is grandma dead? do I have ass cancer? Just before the end of the stage I die but manage to return back on screen in time to retain my 2 option spheres which is great news as here comes Tutanhamanattack.... no lie thats its name.
Stage 5 BOSS
The giant egyptian pharaohs face breaks free of its mount on the wall and eight golden orbs spin round it. The orbs fire a steady stream of shots which I must avoid while aiming at its eyes. The massive head bobs up and down untill it pulls the ultimate SHUMP Boss F-U of moving all the way on to the left side of the screen giving almost no way to attack, this is where countless shoot'em up novices bite the bullet in an effort to try and continue the offensive attack. I patiently wait my turn dodging Orb shots until I can safly traverse back over the top as it reclaims its old position an... Mutha FU*K !!! Im hit !!! I quickly scramble my new Vic onto the screen so I can attempt to scoop up my 2 options and manage with luck to do so. A few well placed hits later and I make em part of history once again. I gotta say the option power ups make a huge difference on this Boss.
Last Stage... supposedly, but we all know how that goes. The Stage starts and I'm quickly sucked into the novice trap of trying to aim for every target on the screen in hopes of capsule rewards and my only reward is Death and I'm left respawning with NO option sphere lil buddies.... FU*K !! Next I am completely bombarded by Gah Damn Gobbstoppers! Fracking Willy Wonka himself wants me Dead, SOD OFF Willy !!! I waste a few more lives here and soon become very nervous as I'm now surrounded by the slowest moving enemies in gaming history which feels like a trap. The scenery changes again as mounted cannons spring to life targeting me and I die again and must avoid more of Willys sticky balls...what? Some weird Fireball looms towards me and before I can try and figure out what to do as weapons are useless against it I die AGAIN. Missiles take down the next cannons bring back confidence just as the imagery shifts yet again and brings along with it the Famous GRADIUS Easter Island Heads ! I do my worst to avoid the Indestructible hazards and pay the toll with many lives... respawning again I start to do better as the Heads fade away in the rearview with two of them come back and leaping ahead of me !??!? WTF!! Firing at them purely by instinct reveals that these two ass clowns can actuality take damage?!?! How would I suddenly know that ?!!?!? Relieved my breathing returns to normal pace but not for long as the view narrows and a annoying yet scary beeping is has brought on a deep foreboding which now is all I can focus on. As the screen slowly stops its scroll I am staring the FINAL BOSS right in the EYE .......
|Option Spheres are a Must here !!|
FINAL BOSS FINAL BOSS FINAL BOSS FINAL BOSS FINAL BOSS
To be more precise its his heart or so the manual would tell you, infact its the heart of some bastard calling him self Zelos..... yup just what I was thinking.... Hipster. The fight commences and a Long fu*ker of a dragon or perhaps "Salamander" if you will circles Zelos's heart while firing large blue spheres that I must dodge. I must mention the Heart is INVINCIBLE until you kill the Salamander. The only vunerable spot is the Salamanders head which is quite tough to get many hits landed since I currently am quite poor in the upgrade department. Two vipers later an the bastards down !!! The game starts to push me forward and I suddenly realize I must quickly fire upon the heart or be devoured by it !! YESSS I grunt through my clenched teeth triumphantly and as the Heart explodes and my tired shoulders drop I breath a sigh of relief @ 1130pm on a Tuesday.....
I continue to watch the screen as my awesomely sleek Vic Viper moves slowly on the screen. Instinctively I place my hands back on the Ol' NES Advantage like a war veteran reluctantly seeking the comfort in the grip of his rifle. Just as I notice that I still have FULL control of the ship the screen accelerates the scroll faster than ever before and my ears alert me to the fact that the music still has not changed from the regular stage track..... OH GOD FU*K NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! before I can begin thinking the evilest of thoughts about KONAMI programers dying much deserved horrible deaths in the deepest pits of hell I'm forced to react and pilot the Vic Viper through what seems like some sort of extreme security shutdown. Doors upon endless doors suddenly materialize right be for me at the last second as I'm attempting to navigate through them. With no warning the opening in the doors starts to cascade darting left , right and back again. With the speeds increasing I don't have to try hard before I lose another life and then I flash a thought of if I can make it through this and how many lives do I have left ? I fear to dart my eyes down and look... Just then Im treated to a exterior view of a green planet and after a moment my beautiful Vic Viper comes blasting free from its orbit just as the entire rock explodes...... THANK FU*KING GOD !!!!!!!! The KONAMI logo pops on screen and I lean way back in my squeaking chair & smile.... After a few seconds of "End Music" I realize the credits have not started rolling and Im still staring at the same KONAMI logo..... Quoting Ol' Ben Kenobi "I got a Bad feeling about this" and I quickly reach for the iPhone and you can witness my response to what happened next yourself in the very short video below......
Extremely short Honest reaction video below
In yet again Ghost & Goblin vein it starts you off back at the first Stage again for a Harder Mode play through.... I had some lives left so I decided to play for a bit and saw some changes in the game play for instance the First Boss now fires projectiles. I played on a bit further and stopped myself at a High Score of 95880.... I don't know if its good or even worth mentioning But why not see how well you do at it? When I stopped I did have more continues but..... seriously could you blame me?
Life Force is a great game with fantastic visuals and gameplay. It's available on the Wii Virtual store for only 500 points thats 5 bucks. For the price with the use of the Contra code intact so why not give it a spin. Life Force has a very rich History and feel free to learn all about it in Hardcore Gaming 101's History of the Gradius Series article. If anyone thinks they know the origin of the 2nd Ships name in the game then email it to me at Finalboss1337@gmail.com a winner will be selected for a prize at random.
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