Article by Ben Elgin | October 10, 2010
Life Force is a shooter with an odd heritage, residing somewhere on the outer edges of the Gradius franchise. It began life as the arcade game Salamander, which bore obvious graphical similarities to the first Gradius game but lacked the iconic power-up system and included both vertical scrolling stages and a second ship oddly named the Lord (or Road) British. Over the course of a couple arcade re-releases across the U.S. and Japan, the game was re-worked to emphasize more organic stages and re-named to reflect this new focus. When it came time for an NES port, even more new stages were added, and the classic power-up bar was grafted back in.
Regardless of whether or not you consider it part of Gradius canon, what we ended up with was one of the best shooters on the system. The graphics were a huge step up from its predecessorís and impressive by any standard, with large bosses and lots of sprites on-screen at any given time. Sure, there was flicker and the occasional slow-down, but thatís an issue that few ambitious NES games managed to avoid. The soundtrack was also excellent for its day, featuring an array of catchy, well-arranged background tracks.
But perhaps more arresting than any technical specifications were the novel stage designs, which had players shooting cells as often as spaceships, navigating through growing and regenerating walls of flesh, and blasting through tangles of intestines and neurons. (Also, inexplicably, an Egyptian temple, but weíll let that inconsistency slide ícause it had a cool boss.) The combination of the novel setting and multiple scrolling offered challenges different from other shooters of the day, drawing in veterans and curious new fans alike. A rare display of nice cover art helped things along, featuring an arresting image of a planet-eating dragon... on fire.
Fortunately for those who felt a little too challenged, the famous Konami code was in effect, giving the Vic Viper and Lord British a comfortable 30 chances to take down Zelos before their civilization became lunch.