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Salamander 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.

Salamander was followed with an official sequel in 1996 entitled Salamander 2.

Story

Latis was 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 it's invasion with the Salamander Army. The Latis Army, however, didn't had 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!!

Gameplay

The first player controls Vic Viper and the second player takes the reins of debuting spacecraft Lord British, which is sometimes referred as "Road British" due to the ambiguity of Japanese-to-English Romanization. The game features six stages which alter between horizontal and vertical scrolling.

Players can immediately restart back into the action instead of being pushed back to a predefined checkpoint per Gradius tradition. The buy-in feature is available in single-player mode, and the continuation feature is only available in dual-player mode; but they will both cease to be available once the final stage is reached.

The player gains power-ups by picking up capsules left behind by certain enemies, as opposed to the selection bar used in other Gradius titles.

Version differences

The arcade version of the game was released under its original title 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 "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.

Both the original Japanese version and the enhanced Life Force release are included in the compilation Salamander Deluxe Pack for the PlayStation and Saturn, as well as in Salamander Portable for the PlayStation Portable.

Ports

NES/Famicom

Salamander was ported to the Nintendo Famicom in Japan in 1987. Instead of being a direct port of Salamander, elements were taken from both that and Life Force, and some elements, such as levels and bosses, were removed to make way for new content. Most of the level graphics and enemy sprites from Salamander, however, are used in favor of those used in Life Force In addition, this version (and most subsequent ones) made use of the Traditional Gradius power-up bar and capsules. The same year, North America received a port as well for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was practically identical to the Famicom port of Salamander, other than featuring an abbreviated version of the Gradius powerup bar(blocks would appear blank but when highlighted, a box would read what they were), not having the multiple endings and being titled Life Force. These ports make use of the Konami Code, which in this instance increases the number of lives from three to 30.

MSX

Main article: Salamander (MSX)

PC Engine

A version for the PC Engine was released on December 12, 1991. Changes include starting from a pre-defined checkpoint upon death in single-player mode, faster enemy animations, and music being somewhat improved from the arcade version.

Home computers

Ocean Software on their Imagine label, released licensed versions of Salamander for the Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad in 1988. The Commodore 64 version was highly praised by the critics of the day, particularly Zzap!64. Despite missing two of the six stages, the simultaneous two player mode and gameplay being much easier than its arcade counterpart, the Commodore port is generally considered to be one of the best arcade conversions on this system.

The Spectrum and Amstrad versions, on the other hand, were unfairly hard, even by Gradius standards, and all for the wrong reasons. These include poor stage design, the fact you do not get a speed up power up until halfway through the first level, with a default speed that is nearly unplayable, and you can only have one, very slow moving bullets on screen at once. Finally, most of the game has been cut, with only the first stage having any layout at all, and the others simply being single screens of enemies. There are also only two boss fights in the game, one of which is a semi-original final boss, the other being a unfair incarnation of the Brain Golem, mostly because it gained the ability to shoot invisible bullets. It is notable that the playing window of the game is also tiny - the rest of what little screen space the Spectrum and Amstrad had being taken up by the game designer credits.

PlayStation and Sega Saturn

The US arcade version of Life Force was part of Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus. It also included the original Salamander, Salamander 2 and the Japanese version of Life Force (with the Gradius power-up bar) with a CGI intro.

PlayStation Portable

The Japanese arcade version of Life Force is part of the Salamander Portable compilation that was released on January 24, 2007 in Japan. It also includes Salamander, Salamander 2, Xexex and as a special bonus the MSX game Nemesis 2, which is different than the regular Gradius II: Ambition of Gofer/Vulcan Venture most people are used to.

Stages

StageNameBossMusic
1 Bionic GermBrain GolemPower of Anger
2 Meteorite SpaceCruiser TetranFly High
3 Burning ChaosIntruderPlanet Ratis
4 Volcano AreaFortress ValisStarfield
5 Asteroid HellAircraft Carrier DeathBurn the Wind
6 Fortress ZoneZelos ForceDestroy Them All

Enemies

Salamander
Ships Vic ViperLord BritishSabel Tiger (Iggy Rock) • Thrasher (Zowie Scott) • Super CobraGalaxyPurple EmperorRed Devil
Salamander stages Bionic GermMeteorite SpaceBurning ChaosVolcano AreaSalamander Planetoid
Salamander (MSX) stages Top Flight Speed to LatisConduct to Space Station ZotSet the Crush Blow System - Planet EioneusSet the Crush Blow System - Planet LaviniaSet the Crush Blow System - Planet KierkeWrath of VenomCrush Salamander
Life Force-only stages Organic Speed ZoneTemple Zone
Salamander 2 stages Sub-life SpaceProminence FortressBio HazardHuge BattleshipAsteroidDoom Fortress
Salamander bosses Brain GolemTetranIntruderFortress ValisDeathBig Core X3Jumping MoaiZelos Force
Port exclusive bosses ZylomGawGigaTutankhamonDead EndEnigmaTrue VenomMetal SlaveZelos Barrier
Salamander 2 bosses BiterHydraAbadonTenny RopPlate CoreCerberusDoom
Gradius Video Games
Gradius series GradiusGradius IIGradius IIIGradius GaidenGradius IVGradius GalaxiesGradius VGradius ReBirthGradius: The Interstellar AssaultGradius NEOGradius NEO Imperial
Spin-offs Salamander (Life Force) (MSX ver.)• Salamander 2Nemesis 2 (Nemesis '90 Kai) • Nemesis 3Nemesis (Game Boy)Cosmic WarsSolar Assault
Parody games ParodiusParodius Da!Gokujō Parodius!Jikkyō Oshaberi ParodiusSexy ParodiusParo WarsOtomedius (Otomedius Gorgeous) • Otomedius X: Excellent!
Other games ScrambleFalsionThunder CrossThunder Cross IISpace ManbowForce GearTrigonXexex
Pachislot Gradius: The SlotCR Parodius Da! EXGokuraku Parodius
Cancelled Vic ViperGradius ArcSalamander HD Remaster