Life Force
Box Shot
Life Force
Platform: NES
Publisher: Konami
Designer: Konami
Genre: Shoot-em-up
Players: 2 (Simultaneous)
Published Date 1988
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

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!