Sunday, September 13, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Life Force

Retro Game of the Day! Life Force

Life Force, aka Salamander, a 1986 release by gaming monster Konami. A NES port followed a year later. Whaaa-aat's the deal, with Life Force?

A spin-off to the more famous Gradius series, Life Force takes the graphical style and gameplay execution, play control, etc of those early games and alters them up a bit. The biggest changes? 2P simultaneous play, and alternating horizontal/vertical levels (Gradius games are customarily purely side-scrolling affairs)

When it released, the game felt in many ways like a nod to Konami's then-trendy/popular Contra games, what with the 2P aspect, the alternating level layouts, and of course the inclusion of the Konami code (up up down down, etc) in order to fill out your warship stock with a veritable fleet of extra lives). This undoubtedly made the game much more of a "social gamer's" experience, as opposed to trying to satisfy only the hardcore shooter-holics..

The game takes place inside an enormous alien organism, again another nod to Contra (whereas that game only pulled that schtick for a single level, Life Force stretched it out to the entire game!). This was cool though, and certainly unique in gaming (and something you still haven't seen much of, thematically. When will someone make "InnerSpace - the Game?")

Graphically and aurally,the game was well-on-par with the best of what anyone else had on offer back in the day. A lot of the chiptunes still hold up and are quite catchy, and the minimal NES color palette seldom was put to better use than in games like this. For many retrogamers, this period represented the Golden Days of Konami's technical ability-

And the gameplay itself? Well, there's a reason I am waiting until the end of this retrospective to mention it, in that hey - it's a shooter, it is what it looks like it is. There's been hundreds and hundreds of similar-playing games and Life Force doesn't do much to differentiate itself in that regard, at the end of the day. In some ways it felt very Gradius derivative (as so many games are) but, especially at the time, this was not a bad thing. The vertical sections were perhaps more interesting (in that they were unique) but overall the gameplay was rock solid, if unspectacular. In hindsight, the 30-man code probably did not do much to heighten the longevity of the game (as opposed to something with a little more gameplay depth, again I am thinking specifically of Contra) but it was a fun romp. The "escape sequence" at the game's end was particularly memorable, in it's tension and timing.

Life Force is a quality shooter that holds up well. Thinking on it tempts me to check out the arcade sequel which surfaced a decade later - somehow I think I will prefer the original!

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