When I first got into emulators I, like many others, discovered computers could play NES games. I also discovered that some of the game ROMs I was looking at I never heard of before. When did the NES get Gradius II, what was Parodius? And what was Salamander? I ended up getting what I thought were NES games I had never heard of. In hindsight, and unbeknown to my mind, I was getting Famicom games. When I fired up Salamander I had no idea that I had unintentionally grabbed what we got (us USA gamers) as Life Force; one of my most top-favorite NES games of all-time. It looked a bit different to me but I hadn't played Life Force in such a long time I thought that I might had just forgot. And I didn't get Life Force when I grabbed Salamander so I had no way to compare.
For those that don't know, Salamander/Life Force is a 2D shoot 'em up developed and published by Konami and ported to many Japanese systems. This game continues the Gradius series and uses the same ship, known as the Vic Viper, with all its glory. The arcades and NES system received it as Life Force but there are a few differences between the Famicom and NES versions of the game. Why the name and parts of the game were changed is not 100% clear.
My first experience with this game was on the NES way back in the late 1980s. I found it at K-Mart, on clearance, for $10. As soon as we got home (a 2-hour drive) the package came open and in went the game. I spent the next couple of hours playing and getting to know the game. By the next day I had it all figured out and beat it. This is Life Force:
As the game progresses the player picks up capsules. The number of capsules collected determine the power up item the player can obtain. Speed, Missiles, Ripple, Laser, Options, and Shield. I'm not sure how many times you get Speed but there are two missiles, two lasers, and two options. I believe Ripple is once and I know Shield is once. The game is comprised of 8 levels, one or two of which are exclusive to the NES/Famicom. Now...take a look at Salamander.
Do you notice anything different? Look closely. The HUD display at the bottom is completely different and more detailed whereas Life Force's HUD is more primitive. But there's one more feature Salamander has that Life Force doesn't. Options. I mentioned in Life Force the player can have 2 Options flying with them. In Salamander it's 3 Options. I was surprised to discover these differences when I played Salamander for the first time. Does it make a difference? Not really. The HUD on Salamander is more eye catching and the extra option can help. Once the player gets that third option, however, the game really starts to bog down. That is something that Life Force doesn't have. At least not on the same scale.
So how do I feel about Salamander? I love it! While the few things I've pointed out are different it is still the essentially the same game. Same levels, same music soundtrack, nothing else different. I have not yet noticed if the game is harder or not. And I've been playing this game a LOT lately. I just love everything about it. If someone were to ask me my favorite NES game I'd pick this one. If someone were to also ask me what I felt was the best game soundtrack I'd have to pick this one as well. It's one of those games where everything just fits together perfectly. I don't have Life Force for the NES but I managed to nab Salamander for my Famicom. I couldn't be happier.
Konami is well known for their NES games including Contra, Gradius, and Castlevania series. For me, Life Force/Salamander is my favorite from them and, as I've said before, my number one all-time favorite NES game. And now it has become my top-favorite Famicom game. I'm probably going to need new control pads before too long from the amount of time I spend playing this game. If you've never played it you should.