Life Force is the pseduo-sequel to Konami's Gradius, and a decent translation
of the arcade title. Why do I say pseudo-sequel? It has the same ship
and weapons system, but Gradius has a real sequel, released only in Japan,
named Gradius 2 (of course.) But I really don't see why Life Force couldn't
be the sequel, because it's a damn fine improvement.
This really big monster is eating a whole bunch of planets, and guess what?
He's about to eat your homeworld! Well, you're off in that fabulous
fighter, the Vic Viper, to head into the body of this monster (named
Zelos) to destroy
its brain. The game starts when you fly through the mouth (you dodge
its teeth!) but you soon go down its throat, past its rib cage, and finally
into the head of the monster. There's a total of six stages, and two
viewpoints. Stages one, three, and five are side-scrolling, just like
Gradius. Stages two, four, and six are all overhead. It's an interesting
change of pace.
For those not familiar with the weapons system, it works like this: certain
enemies give you power-ups. These power-ups will increase the weapon bar
at the bottom of the screen by one increment. Each increment gives you
a different upgrade to your ship; the first notch is a speed up, the second
is missiles, the third is a ripple laser, etc. Thus, you can decide if you
want to save up your power-ups for shield, or just get four and obtain
a new laser weapon. One of the grooviest upgrades is the Option...it will
create an invincible little probe that shoots the same time you do.
Also, one of the coolest things about the game
has got to be the two-player mode. Like Contra, this game can be really
fun when you've got another person helping you. However, it still has
the same problem...you'll face the same amount of enemies in one or two player
mode, so the game can get very difficult. Plus, once you die, you lose
all of your weapons, leaving you near defenseless. Except for the
beginning of each levels, power-ups tend to be a bit on the rare side...
leaving you dead meat if you ever reach the boss. As usual, one hit
will destroy your Vic Viper, and you've got three lives to make it past
a level. Although you can upgrade to a shield, there are still many
collisions that will obliterate your ship without thought. And while
you aren't sent back a distance when you die (a step up from Gradius), you've
still got limited continues (which is a step up of no continues...but not
enough.) The key to the game is memorizing when enemies pop up and reacting,
but with so little opportunity to do so, it can get annoying.
But even if you won't get far, the point of a game is to have fun,
and Life Force definitely provides that. Upgrading the Vic Viper to
a kick-ass, alien-chewing battleship sure can be fun, and running through
the veins and the tunnels of the Zelos is definitely enjoyable.
Gradius looks so primitive compared to this game. The graphics are just
amazing...the Vic Viper looks so much better. The backgrounds are also very
nice and detailed. This was amazing stuff for the Nintendo way back when.
The flames that leap out the floors and ceilings in level 3 is just
too cool. The music is quite good, most of it is
memorable and not annoying in the least. The Vic Viper has a small auto-fire...if you
keep the button pressed, you'll fire one shot, wait until that's off the
screen, fire again, etc. It's some sort of rapid-fire, but rapidly jamming
the button or using a turbo controller is more effective, as more shots will
be fired right after another. And while this isn't the fault of the
play control, it can be too easy to accidentally manuever into the
landscape. This is more the fault of claustrophobic layout in a few
levels...but not all of them.
Even though you'll need the thirty man code to beat Life Force, this game
really doesn't seem to be about winning...it's more about shooting the enemies
and making things go boom. And it does an excellent job of it, especially
when playing with a comrade. With plenty of skill and practice, you will
get farther. It's a great feeling to indeed to finally conquer
the fourth level. Give it a shot!