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Gradius
Gradius 2 MSX

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Gradius II
Gofer no Yabou II

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Gradius III
Gradius Gaiden

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Gradius IV
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Gradius Rebirth

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Salamander / Life Force
Salamander 2

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Portable Games

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Solar Assault
Cosmic Wars
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Salamander (沙羅曼蛇 / サラマンダ) / Life Force - Arcade, NES, MSX, X68000, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum ZX, PC Engine, Saturn, PlayStation, PSP (1986)

Japanese MSX Cover

European Arcade Flyer

American NES Cover

Salamander was released a year after the original Gradius, and two years before Gradius II. It isn't quite a sequel, per say - it has many of the same elements, but some of the mechanics are vastly different. It still stars the Vic Viper (although it looks a little bit different), but there's now a two-player simultaneous mode, featuring a red ship called the Lord British - an Ultima reference in a shooting game, who'd have expected that! The basic weapons are the same - missiles, lasers, options and shields - but there's a new weapon, the Ripple Laser, which later became another Gradius mainstay. The biggest difference is how these weapons are obtained - the weapon selection bar has been removed, and enemies simply leave behind random power-ups that can be picked up.

There are six stages in total, which alternate behind horizontally and vertically oriented stages. The first stage takes place in some kind of biological monster, where you fly past a set of chomping teeth and into its body, fighting a flying, tentacled one-eyed brain. The second stage is a dull asteroid field, but the third level takes place in a flaming tunnel, complete with huge flares that blast out at an arc. The fourth stage heavily resembles the first stage of Gradius, complete with the same graphical style and enemies, while the fifth stage is another boring asteroids field. The sixth stage is an enemy base, again similar to Gradius, where you have to fight a whole wave of Gradius ship bosses, before facing off against some rampant, leaping moai heads. Like in all of the main Gradius games, the final boss - a big, red orb called the Zelos Force - is defenseless, but the screen continues to scroll forward when you reach it. If you don't kill it before it scrolls off the screen, then you need to replay the whole stage. After killing it, the scrolling speeds up, and you need to manuever through a set of tight corridors before you can escape.

The graphics are generally fantastic, and it's amazing to see the technological advances within the single year between Gradius and Salamander. The backgrounds are a lot more detailed, and there's actually more than one boss this time around. One of the most memorable is the first boss, a huge floating brain with an eye in the center and tentacles that wave around in the direction of your ship. There's now a synthesized voice that announces the names of the weapons that are picked up, as well as the bosses' weak points. The music all comes from an old FM synthesizer - compositionally, it's all pretty good, but it sounds really tinny and weak.

The checkpoint system is gone too, so whenever you die, you'll immediately restart back into the action. Unlike most arcade games, putting in an extra quarter will simply add extra lives, up to a pre-defined limit. In single player mode, once you run out of lives completely, you can't continue anymore. However, if you have a second player, you can continue indefinitely up until the last stage, where everything is cut off. Still, the difficulty level gets pretty bad in the later segments of the game, especially with the stage four boss. There are some tricks to get by these areas, but some are massively difficult unless you have a full arsenal of weapons. Gradius always gave you a chance to learn patterns and manuever through enemy fire, but Salamander has a tendency to completely flood the screen with projectiles. The screen scrolls pretty quickly compared to other Gradius games, which also makes things more difficult. At least it's easier to regain your arsenal when you're killed, because you can grab any Options left behind from your previous life, and power-ups are easier to reobtain.

When Salamander was brought to America, Konami had a great idea - what if they took the first level of the game, the one where you fly into the mouth of a huge monster, and turned that into the concept for the entire game? Instead of simply fighting through random levels, you'd be playing a shoot-em-up version of The Incredible Voyage. So, they added a quick story screen, changed some of the graphics, and renamed it Life Force. It keeps the power-up system and most of the graphics from Salamander, except the outer space background is replaced with the webbed vein background, giving the impression that it's supposed to take place in the body of a huge monster.

Apparently someone thought that this was such a brilliant idea that they took that concept, applied even more changes, and re-released it in Japan, also using the name Life Force. The first level basically looks the same, but the second level is now the "kidney" stage, with a different background, and the asteroids changed into "kidney stones." The third stage is now the "stomach" zone, and the flames have been recolored blue to look more like stomach acid. The fourth stage is now the "liver" zone and barely looks an different. The final stage is basically exactly the same - they didn't even try to make it look biological. Some of the other bosses and enemies have been redesigned to look more organic, but most are the same. There are a lot more voices, which announce the stage and make various other comments, like yelling "Fire! Fire!" as you carve through the membrane leading to the first boss. Most of the music is the same, but the themes for stage two, four and five are different. Konami also reimplemented the Gradius-style power-up system for this version of Life Force. The problem is, they didn't rebalance the appearance of the power-up orbs. Now, it's a lot tougher to stay alive long enough to get options or shields, whereas they were more common in Salamander.

It doesn't stop there, because it gets weirder still with the Famicom/NES port. In Japan, it's called Salamander, but the exact same game became Life Force for the NES. The game itself is a combination of elements from both games - it uses the graphics of the Arcade Salamander, but keeps the Gradius-style power-up system from the Japanese arcade Life Force. The first and third stages are basically the same as the arcade versions, but the fourth stage has been moved up to become the second stage. The new fourth and fifth stages are completely new - one is a another biological level, where you fight over the spine and through a giant ribcage, culminating in a fight against a giant skull. The other takes place in some Egyptian ruins, which totally don't make sense in the concept of fighting through the organs of a gigantic monster, but whatever. The third level boss was also changed - in the arcade version, it's a dragon made out of flames, but in the home versions, you only fight its head, which now takes up a huge portion of the screen. The final stage is mostly the same, except Zelos now has snakes to defend it, and you get sent back several levels if you fail to kill it, instead of just replaying the last stage. Harsh.

Overall, the game is still difficult, but completely manageable compared to the ruthless arcade version. The scrolling is a bit slower than the arcade game too, so it's not nearly as hectic. It does feature a thirty-live code, implemented via the famous Konami code, which makes it beatable for shooter newbies. In Japan, the game cartridge featured a transparent blue plastic casing, so you could see the innards of the cartridge. It also has a slightly different ending: In the American version, you simply see the ships escape from the exploding monster, and then the Konami logo pops up while the ending music plays. In the Japanese version, there's a credit sequence, with your pilot - still wearing a helmet - on the side of the screen. At the end, the pilot takes off the helmet, revealing herself to be a woman, a twist obviously borrowed from Metroid. This change was potentially due to the fact that the Japanese version used a custom Konami memory mapper, while the American version used one of Nintendo's general mappers, which may not have supported the same functions. Some other Konami games, like Contra and Castlevania III, needed to have features removed for the same reasons. The Japanese version also allows you to have three options instead of just two.

The graphics are quite impressive for the NES, and the PSG sound is arguably better than the arcade synth, even though it's missing the voice samples. The two player mode is still intact, although each player is limited to two options. Overall, it's an excellent port, and an outstanding game - one of the best shooters on the system.

The PC Engine version is much closer to the arcade game, featuring nearly identical graphics and gameplay. There's a status bar at the bottom of the screen, and the screen needs to scroll up and down a tiny bit to show the entire playing field. The music is a bit better, although it's also missing the voices. Each stage also now has a title before it. This version also uses a Gradius-style checkpoint system - at least in single player mode - but it's also less oppressively difficult than the arcade version, so it's actually more playable. It doesn't feature any extra levels like most of the Konami PC Engine ports, which is a bit disappointing, but it's preferable to the NES version if you want something closer to the arcade.

Like the original Gradius, Salamander also received a handful of ports to Western home computers. The Commodore 64 version is pretty remarkable, because it looks fantastic and plays very well too. There's some flickering and slowdown, and it's missing the fourth and fifth stages, as well as the two player mode, but it's one of the better arcade shooter ports for the computer. The Amstrad and Spectrum ports are identical, and not only look terrible, but are nearly impossible to control, and are heavily compromised in every way imaginable. They also contain only four stages.

The MSX port of Salamander is drastically reworked from all of the others. The first two levels are variations on the first two stages of the arcade game, but the following three can be played in any order. One of them is similar to level four of the arcade game, while the other two are entirely new - in one of them, the lights flicker on and off, requiring that you navigate your ship in the dark. The final stage is a variation on the final level of the arcade game, although there's a whole new boss after defeating Zelos' eye.

It also carries over a few elements from Gradius 2 MSX. In order to get the best ending, you need to uncover hidden "predictions" found in each stage. Sneakily enough, the only way to get to the real final level is by sticking Gradius 2 in the second cartridge slot. Additionally, certain enemies will drop "E" capsules - grab fifteen of these and you'll be granted a new weapon. Upgrading your lasers is essential if you want to find all of the predictions. There's also an intro cinematic that details the plotline. You control two pilots - Iggy Rock, pilot of the Sabel Tiger, and Zowie Scott, pilot of the Thrasher - as they defend the planet of Latis from the evil Zelos Force.

Like all of the MSX games, the choppy scrolling makes things brutal, but it's cool to see an alternate take on the game, and it manages to keep the two-player mode, which is impressive. It also appears in emulated form on the MSX Antiques packs for PlayStation and Saturn. Strangely, it was left off the Salamander Portable pack for the PSP in favor of Gradius 2 MSX.

The arcade renditions of Salamander and Life Force also show up on the Salamander Deluxe Pack and Salamander Portable compilations. There is no way to increase the continues in the PlayStation and Saturn ports, so beating them is pretty difficult, but you can insert extra credits in the PSP version.

The name Salamander is actually a pun in Japanese. The title logo in kanji spells out "SARAMANDAA", the Japanese pronunciation of the word "salamander." The kanji used is a made-up compound word that essentially means "Gorgeous Silky Sand Snake." A similar pun was used in the Japanese logo for Contra.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Hiroyasu Machiguchi
    S. Umechan (NES)

Genre:

Themes:


Salamander (Arcade)

Salamander (Arcade)

Salamander (Arcade)

Salamander (Arcade)

Salamander (Arcade)

Salamander (Arcade)

Salamander (Arcade)

Life Force (NES)

Life Force (NES)

Salamander (MSX)

Salamander (MSX)

Salamander (MSX)

Salamander (MSX)


Comparison Screenshots


Comparison Screenshots - Arcade Versions


Salamander 2 (沙羅曼蛇2 / サラマンダ2) - Arcade, Saturn, PlayStation, PSP (1996)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

Salamander Portable Cover

Salamander 2 was released in the wide gap between Gradius III (1989) and Gradius Gaiden (1997). The graphics are a huge leap over the original games, naturally, featuring some prerendered CGI and hand-drawn 2D sprites. It generally looks pretty good, with a few exceptions. Part of the first stage is a remake of the intro level to Salamander, complete with a reappearance by the Golem. Without warning, a gigantic multi-eyed monster erupts from the side of the screen, chomps on it, and then proceeds to fight you. It would be cool, except said monster looks like something out of a Monty Python skit. The visuals are quite detailed, and are substantially better than your average 16-bit game. However, it does look a bit washed out and sterile compared to Konami's colorful XEXEX, which had been released a few years prior. It's hard to hold that against it though - Salamander was always meant to be a darker game anyway.

Gameplay-wise, Salamander 2 is just like Salamander - two player simultaneous action, instant respawn, and no power bar. Things work mostly the same as before, except there's a Twin Laser in addition to the regular and Ripple lasers, and weapons can be strengthened by picking multiple power-ups. You can also sacrifice one of your Options for a powerful attack. The Option survives, but shrinks to half its normal size. If you pick it up, it will rotate around your ship and automatically fire forward.

There are a total of six stages - four side-scrolling, two overhead. The second stage, an overhead level, features mini-planets that explode into solar flares, similar to the first level of Gradius II. The third is a biological level and the fourth stage takes place in orbit around planet Gradius, flying amongst huge battleships. The fifth and sixth stages consist of an asteroid belt and a base, leading up to a spooky-looking final boss. It's a pretty short game, and while it's not as brutally unfair as Life Force, it still puts up a challenge. However, in all of the consoles ports (on the Salamander Deluxe Pack for PlayStation and Saturn, and the Salamander Collection for the PSP), you get unlimited continues.

Even then, Salamander 2 is decent fun but ultimately rather insignificant, because nothing about it really stands out, especially compared to other Konami shooters. The only truly noteworthy aspect is its spectacular soundtrack, a heavily melodic set of tunes that harken back to the older games but with a harsher edge. There are several boss themes, and some extra music - including remixes of old Salamander tunes - plays in the second loop. Many of the songs are composed or arranged by Naoki Maeda, known for several Dance Dance Revolution tracks. There are even more songs hidden in the sound test and on the soundtrack CD. Excellent stuff.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Director:

  • Qchan

Genre:

Themes:


Salamander 2 (Arcade)

Salamander 2 (Arcade)

Salamander 2 (Arcade)

Salamander 2 (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Intro
Gradius
Gradius 2 MSX

Page 2:
Gradius II
Gofer no Yabou II

Page 3:
Gradius III
Gradius Gaiden

Page 4:
Gradius IV
Gradius V
Gradius Rebirth

Page 5:
Salamander / Life Force
Salamander 2

Page 6:
Portable Games

Page 7:
Solar Assault
Cosmic Wars
Other

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