| paleface [sys=PS1; cat=Shooter_4way; loc=JPN] |
|Damn I love these deluxe packs, and not just for the games: you also get a concentrated dose of gaming history. On this single little black disk you get ports of Konami's arcade shooters Salamander, Lifeforce, and Salamander 2--something of a mixed bag of tasty nuts, as you'll see.|
These games never made it big in the West which is a shame because it left us with Konami's duller "Gradius" series. Salamander came out the year after Gradius ('86) and made three noteworthy improvements over Gradius' horizontal shooting gameplay: 1) it had simultaneous two-player, 2) powerups were automatic, no having to buy them like Gradius, and 3) it alternated horizontal and vertical stages.
This last feature I find a bit puzzling: what could have induced them to, in effect, put two games in one? Perhaps there was a prototype vertical Gradius hanging around and they wanted to put it to good use? The vertical stages seem easier than the horizontal ones, probably because the screen is wider and there are no walls to smash into. Speaking of walls, Salamander does this funky organic thing where the walls are living pink tissue and actually grow in front of you or heal up behind you. Nifty once you get over the initial surprise of having a wall grow closed and crush you. Oh yes, on the default difficultly level Salamander is also much, much more forgiving than Gradius--at least in the first level or so; those instant flash-fry flames in the second horizontal stage put a quick stop to me.
Salamander has spots of marked slowdown, especially when walls are growing at you. Also, the player 1 ship is blue, as are the floating Option weapon pods you equip, and many of the bullets, making it easy to lose track of your ship in a busy scene, particularly in vertical mode for some reason. Fortunately the game is fun enough to remain worth playing.
Lifeforce followed soon after Salamander (we're talking about Japanese versions mind you) and is really just a tweaked-up version of the first game, featuring slightly more colorful graphics, much higher difficulty and... brace yourselves... Gradius' powerup buying system. Noooo! What foul, heartless fiend could have done such a thing? To weigh down Salamander's fast, heady shooting with that damnable system that forces you to devote half your attention to counting your collected credits so you can buy equipment necessary just to make your feeble ship playable--devil's work, I tell you! Sigh.
Fortunately, Salamander's true sequel, Salamander 2, released a whopping ten years after the original, casts off the hateful buying system, triumphantly restoring the game to fast shooting freedom. With gorgeous backgrounds, fast action and crisp sound effects, Salamander 2 has everything going for it--while it lasts.
See, finally in this third game they allow you to continue after you lose all your lives, so you can pretty much just blast right on through the game in a heartbeat. I quite literally killed a boss and thought "whew, that was a pretty good first stage"--and then the ending credits rolled in front of my fallen jaw. Now, obviously time flew a bit on me as all the shooting and continuing (though oddly without growing walls this time) sucked me along, but really I only remember maybe three guys who maybe in a pinch could have qualified as stage-end bosses during my play-through, and also I was on lunch break and keeping a eye on the clock and I played S2 for less than 15 minutes.
Obviously it doesn't help the play time that you continue right where you last died, rather than having to go back to the beginning of the last stage, but still, even for a shooter this is a bit brief. On the plus side once you beat it it starts you over at the beginning at a higher difficulty (where I could no longer ocntinue), and I unlocked a music player or something, and of course there were four higher levels of difficulty yet to conquer but still, I was left wanting more.
And yet even with potential brevity and a tweaked (and mangled) re-release taken into account, there's more than enough here to qualify it as a worthy purchase. If you liked Gradius you really oughtta see Salamander 2 at least once.
Update: Looking over the manual I see six stages (three horizontal, three vertical) listed for each game... so I guess they'd all feel short if you could just continue right through. Just as well that you can't do so in two of them, then. Now I know why certain h@rdc0re shooter fans of my acquaintance never let themselves continue.