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Life Force Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Rating: 78%
Life Force
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  • Review Score:

  • B+
Coming right on the heels of Gradius, Life Force was sold to American gamers as the must-own sequel of 1988. It may not have said Gradius on the box, but everything from the advertising to the name of the hero suggested this was the continuing adventures of the Vic
Viper. Twenty-five years later, I'm here to say that you were lied to. No matter what the instruction manual says, this is not the sequel to Gradius. As it turns out, Life Force is the port of the arcade classic Salamander.

While not a proper sequel, that doesn't stop Life Force from being better than Gradius in every way. What starts out looking a lot like any other 2D shoot-em-up, quickly turns into an explosive action game full of impressive boss fights and innovative level designs. And while not every idea works, Life Force is so much fun that it's a little hard to go back to regular old vanilla Gradius.

Life Force (NES)

Let's start with the level designs. Most 2D shooters employ static backgrounds that put the emphasis on fighting enemies. Life Force takes this a step further by introducing stages that actively fight back. Mountains will form in front of your ship and spikes will fall from the sky. In the first stage alone, the Vic Viper must navigate an ever-changing maze of rocks, destroy vines and then shoot a way through the caved-in exit.

The very next stage completely changes the camera perspective, taking us from a 2D sidescroller to an overhead shooter. This adds its own set of obstacles and quirks, giving fans of the genre a nice change of pace. But don't worry; it doesn't take long for Life Force to go back to the more traditional horizontal stages.

Each level is punctuated with a boss fight. You'll end up fighting a giant brain, a massive alien ship and even a dragon before eventually fighting an Egyptian pharoah's death mask. Even the least exciting Life Force baddie is more interesting than any boss in Gradius.

Life Force (NES)

Unfortunately this NES port is hindered by a series of technical problems. You get the usual slowdowns and flickers, especially when dealing with visually taxing backgrounds and bosses. I expect a certain level of performance issues when playing this style of game on the 8-bit NES, but in Life Force these problems tend to diminish an otherwise exciting adventure.

Technical problems or no, Life Force is one of Konami's best shoot-em-ups. Fans of Gradius will immediately recognize the power-up system and even some of the enemies, and everybody else will enjoy an action game full of creative levels and boss battles. Life Force is so good that it barely matters that it's not a real Gradius sequel.
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