Release Date: 1988 (North America)
Genre: multi-scrolling shooter
This was the first game, outside of Contra, that I remeber using the "Contra Code" on. The ever-famous "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start" would yield 99 lives when used at the start up screen on Life Force. It wasn't actually until years later that I learned that it was also referred to as the "Konami Code" and was useable on other Konami games. What a wonderful little code, and one that comes in handy when playing a game like Life Force.
My friend Ben was the person who introduced me to Life Force back sometime in the 90's. I had never heard of it, but he said it was a cool game, and when it came to video games, Ben knew his shit. So if he said its a cool game, then that meant it was a cool game. Ben was right.
I admit I knew nothing about the whole Gradius series until years later. I still kick myself for not knowing about the other Gradius games that were available on the SNES. I LOVED Life Force! This game was amazing, and still has a very high replay value to this very day. I have yet to find a game in the entire series that I haven't enjoyed.
Konami found a successful formula, side/multi-scrolling shooter games, and ran with it. All of the games in the Gradius series were done using the same formula over and over again, and in my opionion, it worked. The old saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to be the best way to summarize this franchise.
Life Force is a futuristic space shooter game. You take control of the Vic Viper, and fly through a mix of horizontal and vertical scrolling stages, with a boss battle at the end of each one. The stages themselves are all very unique, and different from one another, some even crossing over in to the bizarre realm. The more interesting enemies included Red blood cells, flaming worlds of fire, laser-shooting ribs, Egyptian themes, brains with tentacles, boulders, eyeballs, and even a boss battle with King Tut himself. Crazy!
The other aspect of this game is the power-ups. By killing specific enemies along the path, you can collect power-ups tokens that allow you to upgrade your weapons, and flying speed. Some of the upgrades include missles, lasers, ripple lasers, and one they call "option". The Option is simply an added entity that surrounds and follows your ship and fires the same weapons you have, essentially giving you multiple lines of fire. It's probably my favorite upgrade, when combined with the ripple-laser.
If you play with a friend, and use the Contra Code to aquire 99 lives each, then boy were you in for some quick fun. The best part of playing co-op was that if one of you ran out of lives before the other, you could push start and begin taking the other players remaining lives. Yeah, Ben and I would run through this game from start to finish very quickly.
There really is nothing bad about this game. There isn't much about this game that I don't absolutely love. If I was to make one complaint about this game it would be the sheer number of enemies. There are stretches of this game where you are accosted on all sides by swarms of enemies, and their associated bullets. Without the 99 lives code this would be a very difficult game. I have tried to beat it using nothing but the origial 3 lives and continues. It's pretty improbable that it can be done. I have never beaten it using nothing more than what the game provides. The entire series is the same way. Every game flings hoardes of enemies at you, testing your relfexes and navigation skills. But, In my opinion, this it what makes the game so fun.
I have heard of people doing speed runs of various games on various consoles, and I would say that this game is probably the first game I remember speed-running through. Ben and I would always try to see how quickly we could run through Life Force. I don't recall us actually timing it, and it was in a time before YouTube, so alas, I have no record of the various speed runs we made. It's amazing to me that after all these years, I still enjoy playing this one....over and over. Luckily for us all, Konami continued to build on the original Salamander game, and in so doing, created a wonderful world of Gradius games for us to enjoy. Aside from Castlevania, Gradius is probably my favorite video game series. Thanks Konami!