Life Force (NES)

Game Review

Life Force Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Robert Hughes

A force to be reckoned with

The space shooter is a genre that has somewhat faded into obscurity in recent years, both due to advances in technology rendering their limited scope obsolete and their typically gruelling difficulty proving unpalatable to some gamers. The NES port of Life Force, (or Salamander, as it was originally known on Eastern shores) serves as an effective reminder that there’s great merit in revisiting simpler times. Players who will meet Life Force on its own terms and master its intricacies will find a challenging, rewarding experience, but those looking for a relaxed, light-hearted game may find its constant pressures frustrating.

Life Force is extremely similar to its older brother, Konami’s excellent 1985 arcade gem Gradius, once again placing players in the cockpit of Vic Viper in an intense and (occasionally) frustrating battle against the gargantuan invader Zelos. Gradius’ unique power-up system makes a welcome return – players collect glowing icons from downed enemy ships which can be redeemed for a number of boosts such as increased speed, rate of fire and even orbiting assistant ships. Utilising this system with maximum efficiency takes some practice, with many a rookie player prioritising the wrong enhancement or being unable to split their focus between managing their ship’s power-ups and dodging enemy fire, leading to frequent early deaths.

Life Force mercifully leaves very little down-time between lives, however, and its addictive and challenging gameplay make each failure feel like a lesson learned rather than a cheap punishment to bolster playtime. Life Force rewards patient play and thoughtful movement, rarely devolving into a ‘bullet-hell’ style shooter where lightning fast reflexes and constant rote memorization are required. The game alternates between horizontal and vertical scrolling stages; which are more favourable is a matter of personal preference, but each feel natural and well-designed in their own right.

The visuals are refreshingly detailed, with each varied background maintaining an organic feel, gritty and imposing without being dull or lacking in colour. The peppy soundtrack lends an optimistic playfulness to the adventure, each stage looping catchy tunes that avoid becoming repetitive or distracting throughout the game.

This features a two-player co-operative mode, mercifully allowing struggling players to tackle Life-Force’s initially enervating challenges as a duo, counteracting the formidable difficulty by allowing more screen coverage. This can be done on the 3DS even when only one player has purchased the title and is arguably the optimum way to enjoy Life Force, adding further nuances such as power-up management to the fray. The mode is a welcome addition, and a generous one at that - allowing two players to enjoy Life Force in its entirety for the price of a single admission is more than a favourable deal, and its simple controls and clear presentation make it easy for anyone to get in on the action, regardless of previous experience in the genre.


For the experienced shooter player, Life Force is fairly short – restarts aside, the game can be blown through in short order, and replayability is extremely limited. Still, the short time spent with Life Force is an exigent joy, a rollercoaster of triumph and frustration, each enfuriating death offset with rewarding victory. Life Force is not so much a game as it is a provocation, a bold proclamation that gamers today cannot muster the skill nor the patience to overcome its trials – as a gateway into the shooter genre or just a game to put some hair on your chest, patient players could do a lot worse than picking up this demanding classic.

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User Comments (45)



GloryQuestor said:

For those who haven't played this one, it's one of the greats of the NES era. Life Force is removed from Gradius in many ways, the biggest being the top-down stages — it's not just a vertical shooter, but also a HORIZONTAL one. I liked the level design quite a bit. I've known quite a few gamers who wanted to see this game have a proper sequel that never really materialized.

So, shooter fans just shouldn't wait on Gradius or overlook this real NES gem. Get this — you won't be disappointed.



Tasuki said:

@Shiryu: Well if you have a PS4 and PS+ memebership its free. For me Resogun was the best launch game on the PS4.



Shiryu said:

@Tasuki Ah, no, not even my dad who has a PS3 wanted a PS4. Too soon to commit, I will stick with Wii U for this generation until something amazing happens. If not... well, I got a Wii U.



Shiryu said:

@Tasuki At least we got Shin'en on eShop. And we know they can do top tier shmups too, still hoping to see more Nanostray down the line...



Tasuki said:

@Shiryu: That is true. Also on the PS3 there is Super Stardust HD which is made by the same team that did Resogun for the PS4. But honestly you are right we need more of these games.



ICEknight said:

Why are these screenshots square-shaped? Is that how it looks on the 3DS? Because that's the wrong aspect ratio.



Shiryu said:

@ICEknight Stardust... good times on the Commodore Amiga right there. And why the hell did Geometry Wars died off anyway? Glad I have the Wii and DS versions haging about. We need more shmups, all kinds!



Tasuki said:

I remember renting this game as a kid, never got far into it iirc but still had fun with this game.



Obito_Sigma said:

Meh, I don't mind if everywhere else except NoA has this game. I'll give you guys that one and you could also keep Blaster Master as long as we get SMB3... deal... no?



edcomics said:

This is one of my top NES games. The soundtrack alone is amazing, but the level design and creature design is so cool. It's just a lot of fun. Though to be honest, I don't think I ever beat it without Game Genie. I'm such a cheater. But doing a quick Life Force Game Genie playthrough was always a ton of fun. Man, the box art is amazing, too. Such a great package. That's the biggest problem with these digital releases. You don't get the delicious Konami box art. You don't get the instruction manual with the hand-drawn character art on the inside. I love that stuff so much. The pack-ins were a big part of my enjoyment of a game back in the day.



unrandomsam said:

@Shiryu Is there any current Japanese shmup devs not making bullet hell games other than G-Rev and Milestone (Think Milestone even is defunct).



HandheldGuru97 said:

When this comes to the USA I'll give this a look, I do love a nice NES shooter and this game seems to be right up my alley!!!!



micronean said:

Ah, Life Force. Probably my favourite shooter on the NES. I certainly loved the music on it. One of the first games I ever played on the NES.



the_shpydar said:

Such a great game. I poured many hours into it back in the day, and will certainly grab it as soon as it comes to the US. And just in case anyone doesn't know and is having a rough go with it, you can use the almighty Konami Code to get 30 lives, a la Contra.



KnightRider666 said:

@Kawaii_Neko: He has reason to, just as I do. Eu has 4 NES games we don't have, and this gem happens to be one of them alongside SMB3, Blaster Master, and now Mario Bros.



KeeperBvK said:

So? NA also has games we don't have yet, like Goemon, Super Punch-Out, Double Dragon and Wario's Woods. At least three of those are great games (Double Dragon is not). And we just got Contra III last week, when you guys got it way earlier. Plus, Mario Bros. is hardly worth waiting for.
It's just annoying to constantly see American gamers complain in each and every news, review and thread about how their VC is sooooo much worse than the European one. You're missing great games, we are missing great games, but we don't seem to complain as much. Just wait a bit, man.



Mario90125 said:

I feel his and your pain, but it's annoying that i see those type of comments on every Nintendo Download page. I'm in no rush to get those get those games, since i already own the catridges.

Nintendo's trying to make Europe remember and cherish the NES, that's my only theory why those games aren't available here in the US yet. You probably glad that you're getting our superior 60HZ versions of the VC games.



unrandomsam said:

@KeeperBvK Especially with Konami what Japan has/had the true vision.

(And it is the fault of Nintendo of America with their silly attitudes during the NES era.)

No useless censorshop. Less compression (So less slowdown for e.g Super Castlevania IV can imagine if they didn't have to gut the game they wouldn't have bothered with that) Better PC Engine versions of lots of stuff (i.e PC Engine Salamander - best home console version of this). Castlevania III - US NES version the story and the music are both broken.



Agent721 said:

Me & a good friend used to play this game religiously in the 80s. We never beat it without the Konami code, but we came close. The ability to customize the weapons is key...we used to have each stage down, with the best weapons to get. This & Super R type on the SNES are my two favorite space...errrr body....shooters.



Agent721 said:

Wouldn't it be dope if Nintendo gave us online for 2 player coop...it will clearly never happen, but this & Contra would be perfect candidates.



Platypus101 said:

@Tasuki 'Tis the ONLY game on the 4 I like thanks to classics like Lifeforce and Super Metroid, I'm happy I purchased a Wii U too bad we may never see Resogun on the U.



grumblegrumble said:

Back in the day when this came out (I was verrrry young) I beat this game in about 3 weeks with my older cousin. Great memories, and a fantastic game that demands a sequel!



grumblegrumble said:

@Agent721 Exactly! I remember that! The konami code! Maybe that's how we beat it back in the day.. can't remember! Great game, great soundtrack, and such a fun space shooter

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