Life Force (NES)

Game Review

Life Force Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Darren Calvert

Use the force!

For those not in the know, Life Force started out life known as Salamander in Japan and was renamed for Western audiences. The Salamander series is a spin off to Konami’s famous Gradius franchise of shooters; the main differences in Salamander are the introduction of a simultaneous 2 player mode, vertically scrolling stages in addition to the usual horizontal scrolling levels and a simplified power up system.

It is fair to say that the humble NES is not remembered particularly for having many shoot-em-ups, that is at least compared to the TurboGrafx and Mega Drive. That being said there were a few and Life Force holds its own as one of the best shooters on the NES.

A giant alien fiend by the name of Zelos is up to no good consuming planets and even whole galaxies which cross its path. It’s up to the good ship Vic Viper, and if playing with a buddy, Lord British, to penetrate this vile being and destroy it from the inside. As a result of this many of the stages in Life Force have an organic feel to them. In addition to the usual small alien foes you will want to shoot to smithereens you also have to contend with dangers such as landscapes which rapidly grow around you threatening to crash your ship. There is lots of variety on offer here and of course the trademark Easter Island heads make an appearance later in the game, in true Gradius style.

For an NES game the graphics are quite impressive. There is lots of detail in every level and the animation of the enemy ships does not disappoint. Later in the game there are effects such as giant arcs of flames tearing across the screen and crumbling walls. The boss fights are quite innovative too, as you’ll take on formidable foes such as a flying brain with arms, a massive dragon’s head and a spooky grinning skull. The music is upbeat and catchy and set the pace nicely for each level; considering the NES hardware the music quality really stands out and is a league above that contained in the NES port of Gradius.

Much like Gradius the key to success in this game is getting fully powered up. If you get the optimum selection of speed-ups, shields, options, missiles, and lasers you will be a force to be reckoned with. Of course if you die and lose your power-ups then things will become a lot more difficult all of a sudden. On the whole the game feels a lot more balanced that Gradius and it is easier to recover from this loss of power-ups. As such this is much more accessible as a game for the shoot-em-up novice, while others such as Gradius might intimidate.

One of the greatest features of Life Force of course is the simultaneous 2 player mode; this does not feel tacked on as an afterthought, by any means. On many occasions there are multiple paths to take which allow each player to build up their personal power-up supply without getting in each other’s way. The rest of the time it is a free for all, but this is a cooperative game, it’s nice to share!


For shoot-em-up fans this game is truly worth a look. It isn’t a faithful port of the arcade original particularly, but don’t let that put you off. The game packs a good challenge without being stupidly hard, it is the ideal entry point for a newcomer to the Gradius series of games. The alternating horizontal and vertical levels are an innovative touch for the era and the 2 player mode is the icing on the cake. It comes heartily recommended for shoot-em-up fans.

From the web

Game Trailer

Subscribe to Nintendo Life on YouTube

User Comments (22)



aphexbr said:

OK, I'm confused. I had a game called Salamander on the ZX Spectrum, and it looks like this one despite what the review says. Anyone know if this is the same one?



anthonyb said:

I just downloaded this one after reading the review- it's awesome! I love it. It's really challenging the first few play throughs- you'll definitely need the 30 lives cheat!

I recommend this one!



Ferret75 said:

I downloaded this game last weekend but I haven't gotten a chance to actually play it yet. XP

Looking forward to it. =o



Adam said:

I can't get past level 2 without cheating. Even with the 30 lives granted by the Konami code, level 3 has these enemies that take up over half the screen in a second with little warning among other annoying enemies, and the game only gets harder. Oddly, the bosses from level 3 on are much more fair and fun than level 2's; it's just the levels that have been bothersome.

Another odd thing is, once I had presumably finished the game (I fought this snake thing atop an orb with a mouth? After was an escape sequence), it just sent me back to some random previous level without any explanation, and I died at the boss of it, with no continues left.

I don't like cheating, especially when the game is unfair even with the cheat, so I guess I'll play the first two levels some more before deleting it, but this was hugely disappointing. I'm not the best at this type of game. I've played and faired much better at games like Castle of Shikigami III, Raiden IV, Ikaruga, R-Type, etc., so it's not that I'm just a sucky player.

I wouldn't recommend this to anyone except for people who don't mind never seeing the end of the second level without cheating, or the less than .1% of the population who can get halfway through the game without codes.



Adamant said:

Oh come on, Life Force isn't hard. Hell, besides Star Parodier on the lowest difficulty, it's probably the easiest in the genre on the VC (and I can't really think of any other easier ones off the top of my head either)

" level 3 has these enemies that take up over half the screen in a second with little warning"

You see them coming, and they won't hit you if you're hugging the left edge of the screen anyway.

"Another odd thing is, once I had presumably finished the game (I fought this snake thing atop an orb with a mouth? After was an escape sequence), it just sent me back to some random previous level without any explanation, and I died at the boss of it, with no continues left."

One you've killed the dragon, you can damage the core itself. Once you've killed it, the ending will roll after the escape sequence, and the game will start over in Hard Mode.



Adam said:

Maybe you are particularly good at this type of game, but that doesn't make this game easy. Gate of Thunder is much, much easier. Star Soldier is, too. I only just got R-Type yesterday and already got farther in it than I have in Life Force, which I got on the day of its VC release. And those are just the ones I have. I'm sure there are others.

In all the games I've just listed, I have at the very least gotten past level 2 without cheating, usually further. In Life Force I used over a 100 lives if you add them up from each continue to finish it, and even then I got the wrong ending, haha. So it's far from the easiest shooter on VC.

Anyway, thanks for the tip about the ending. I damaged the core a bit, but there was hardly any time. That is a weird way to end the game.

I'm still trying to figure out how to beat the boss of level 2 without dying a bazillion times. His arms take up most of the screen. I don't understand why they made the level 2 boss significantly harder than every other boss.



Dazza said:

@Adam – R-Type is a much harder game that this, fair enough levels 1&2 are easy, but the big starship on level 3 is no pushover. Level 4 onwards are a complete nightmare unless you memorise the patterns very precisely. I find Life Force much more accessible, if you find this hard I recommend you never play Gradius, you would hate it!

The level 2 boss in Life Force is fiendish I admit. You just have to shoot through the white lines and destroy then the bubble. When those swinging arms come near you just move to the top of the screen and come back down when it looks safe. He has a definite pattern of movement so once you figure that out you should be OK.

Good luck!



Adam said:

I can't remember if I ever played the first Gradius. I didn't get into shooters other than Galaga when I was a kid until the SNES days when I rented one of the Gradius games, one of the R-Types, and Phalanx all the time, none of which were nearly as cruel as this.

EDIT: I've since met with the starship in R-Type level 3... and wow. Well, aside from the seizure-inducing flickering (ugh), it's hard but fair. I still find this to be a walk in the park compared to Life Force, in which you're totally screwed as soon as you die once. Neither is a bad game though. I was just saying it's absurdly and cruelly tough... but sometimes that is fun in a masochistic kind of way.



Eltigro said:

I remember playing this on my NES back in the proverbial day. Good game. I don't remember it being that exceptionally difficult, but then, that's also looking back through the lens of reminiscence and about two decades.



Adam said:

Guys, just go along with it and pretend it's really difficult so I don't feel bad. I don't ask much.



Adamant said:

" I still find this to be a walk in the park compared to Life Force, in which you're totally screwed as soon as you die once."

What? No no, it's fully possible to regain your powers upon death. In the original Gradius, on the other hand, you might as well dive for the reset button.



Adam said:

I'd have to play through again and count, but I think there are about as many power-ups in the very beginning of each level as there are in the rest of the level, and those are all spread out and often hard to get to if you don't have much speed. Plus, you're much more likely to die the farther you get into a level, and the farther you get into a level, the fewer power-ups remain.

Take level 2 for instance, the boss is super hard to get by without dying once, and if you die once, you now have no speed and no power-ups available. For me, I might as well dive for the reset button.

... not that I can even get to the boss without cheating. The moment I die the first time in level 2 means I'm going to die a lot more each time those stupid volcanoes appear shooting ridiculous amounts of rocks much faster than I can react to.

Still, I don't understand why you so badly want me to think it's not hard. It obviously is very hard for me. I don't pretend to speak for you. Obviously you are very good at this type of game, so take it as a compliment that I find it so frustrating.



Adamant said:

i agree the boss on the second level is hard - I died a lot there when I first played it too, since he's nearly unbeatable if you don't have 2 speed-ups. Once you get level 2 down, though, he shouldn't be too tough.

And just wait until hard mode, where the boss changes the direction his arms spin at random. EVIL!

And no, I'm most certainly not good at shumps at all. I can count the amount I've managed to beat on the fingers on one hand.



Adam said:

I can count the ones I've beaten on one finger! Beat that.
Well, if you count games that have easy modes, the number would increase a bit, but I'm not about to brag about a game I beat on easy or very easy mode.



Sauronmx said:

Lol a excelent game from forgotten times...you make me remember my chilhood with this one...

in the time of the nes my father get my this game along with my first system (along with duck hunt and super mario bros) i finish super mario and make a lot of points in duck hunt but cant remember if i finish this game once, prolly will download it to see if i can remember those old good times.



Cesco said:

I had this game on my NES, it was the game that made me discover the existence of the infamous Konami code



Neogaard said:

Ah good times, got this cheap from somewhere round 89-90, beat it without losing a single life(yea it's one of my top performances and best hardcore gaming-memory), even managed to survive the very last part where everything speeds up more and more and you have to hit the tunnels perfectly at blazing speed, good times indeed!

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...