Life Force is the NES adaptation of Salamander, a spin-off of Gradius, which is arguably the most influential series of space shooters outside of R*Type. While Life Force is noticeably very similar to Gradius, there are a couple big differences that make the game a unique experience. First off, the game alternates between sidescrolling stages and overhead stages. Also, the power-up system is completely different, and a turn-off for fans of Gradius or the original Salamander, though I have no major problems with it. Along the bottom is your "power-up potential" meter with 6 different power-ups. If you collect one pod, you can "cash it in" and use it to get the first power-up, collect 2 pods before using them to get the next power-up, and so on. You can continue to get more pods and power-ups until your ship is a small army in and of itself. My only gripe with this unconventional system is that sometimes I will accidentally get more than 6 pods and it resets, making vain all the time spent collecting pods for a big power-up.
If you've ever heard of Life Force before, chances are it was someone venting thier frustration over the difficulty of the game. Any way you look at it, unless you are a seasoned shmup' pro, the game is tough. But, at least in my opinion, the game is difficult in a good way, it continually pushes you to memorize attack patterns and increases your hand-eye coordination. It is nowhere near as tough for me as big brother Gradius is, the game is very "beatable".
For the most part, the action is nicely balanced, but in a few areas the game gets cheap. In level 3 waves of fire come up way too fast while other enemies swarm around you, so chances are good you will back right into one while trying to get out of the way. Also, while all the other bosses are, for the most part, pretty fun and intuitive, the level 2 boss is just an exercise in irritation and afterward it will feel like you washed your fingertips with lye soap. Other than those notable cases, the game flows pretty smoothly with neat and varied challenges at every corner.
I think I may have harped on Life Force a bit too much in this review, it is, afterall, my favorite NES space shooter (if that's saying anything). If you're a shmup' fan and an NES player, you absolutely must get this game. Though be warned, it suffers from 'Gradius-itis' (laughable last boss and a weak ending) but you probably already guessed that.
Does a very good job of giving you realistic and varied alien terrains
In the overhead stages, I could swear the Vic Viper looks like a 16-bit sprite or even 32 (if you squint)
Another area this game has got covered, great tracks and sound effects
I can't think of one track at all that doesn't kick, good job Konami
A spin-off of another series..
Although... the overhead/sidescroller switch and the system for powering up set this game apart from the competition
LOTS of combinations of power-ups, and the Vic Viper can go pretty fast after a few speed-ups
A basic shootemup, for the most part, filled with (dare I say it) twitch action
Replay Value 8
Challenging, and it continually pushes your skills to the max
It takes a turn for the worse at the very end, plus it's simple if you cheat and use the Konami code