The shooter Gradius was a massive hit for Konomi- so a sequel was in order- in a hurry. But- instead of doing the same thing all over, they hypothesized- to defeat the alien bacteria- let’s go into it! And that’s exactly what you do in Lifeforce!
But before it became Lifeforce- it started out as a game called Salamander. Via the Konami Wiki-
Salamander (沙羅曼蛇 Saramanda) is a scrolling shooter arcade game by Konami. Released in 1986 as a spin-off to Gradius, Salamander introduced a simplified power-up system, two-player cooperative gameplay and both horizontally and vertically scrolling stages. Some of these would later become the norm for future Gradius games. The game was later re-titled Life Force in North America and the story and levels were changed.
Latis was a planet covered by water with a beautiful sparkle. There, a prophecy of fire has been passed down since a long time ago: Thousands of light years away, when a giant dragon born and living in a sea of flames wakes up, a crazy force will approach, swallowing heaven and earth in the darkness and eventually breaking the light.
Here in planet Latis, the Bacterion cluster continues to spread, beginning its invasion with the Salamander Army. The Latis Army, however, didn’t have any way of fighting against Salamander. The prince of Latis threw himself at battle with the Space-Time Fighter Lord British, named after himself, and requested help from the planet Gradius, which was said to have faced and defeated the cluster’s forces before.
The Gradius Army receives British’s distress call. Extending their support, they fly to the Salamander Army’s mother star. Super Space-Time Fighter Vic Viper, launch!!
The arcade version of the game was released under its original title, Salamander, in Japan (version J) and Europe (version D), and as Life Force in North America. The Japanese and European versions are nearly identical, but the American version changes the game’s plot by adding an opening text that establishes the game to be set inside a giant alien life-form which is infected by a strain of bacteria. Stages that featured star field backgrounds had them changed with the web background from Stage 1 to maintain consistency with the organic setting of the plot. The power-ups are also given different names, with the “Speed-Up” becoming “Hyper Speed”, the “Missile” becoming the “Destruct Missile”, the “Ripple Laser” becoming the “Pulse Laser”, and the “Force Field” becoming the “Shield”.
Konami later released an enhanced version of Salamander in Japan bearing the American title of Life Force which further fleshes out the organic motif. All of the backgrounds and mechanical enemies are completely redrawn and given organic appearances. The power-up system was also modified, with the Japanese Life Force using the same power-up gauge as the original Gradius. Some music tracks have been completely changed for this release. The power-up gauge is arranged differently for both players as well.
Two years have passed since the battle against the Bacterian star system… To the planet Gradius which regained peace, an unprecedented crisis has arrived. The unknown super-organism “Life Force” suddenly appeared in space!! It’s a gigantic creature which absorbs all substances and continues to grow without stopping. In the meantime, planet Gradius will be absorbed too! People entrust their last hope into the super spatio-temporal fighter Vic Viper.
Lifeforce was sold as a kit and in a dedicated cabinet- the one used for Contra. It would be used for most of their single and dual player games through the 1980s. This is still one of my all time favorite shooters. It’s simplified power up system, horizontal and vertical levels, as well as the almost Fantastic Voyage theme and killer soundtrack and voice put this one way over the top in my book!
Enough jibber jabber! let’s go into the giant alien life-form and defeat the bacteria!
Lifeforce was so succsessful in the U.S., that a Japanese release was created- retaining the power upgrade system of Salamander, but following the U.S. port’s storyline!
As expected- a ton of homeports were released- which one have you played?
Let’s check out the killer soundtrack- composed by Miki Higashino!
This soundtrack is so popular in fact- a metal version has been created! get ready to bang your head!
Lifeforce can be played on modern systems via the Arcade Archives- no relation.
But- if you really want to play LIfeforce- get the Konami Arcade Classics Collection! It has- Scramble, TwinBee, Nemesis (also known as Gradius), Salamander (also known as Life Force), Typhoon (also known as A-Jax), Haunted Castle, Vulcan Venture (also known as Gradius II), and Thunder Cross.
It also includes a bonus eBook packed with new information about the titles, including interviews with the development staff, behind-the-scenes insights, and sketches and design documents never before revealed to the public! Check it out!
Did you ever play Lifeforce? Did you ever destroy Zelos’ heart?
Let me know in the comments!
Keep Playin’ Like it’s 1981!