Review by Overdrive

Reviewed: 01/31/07

A very nice take on the classic Konami shooter theme

It’d been a long, long time since I played Lifeforce. When I had completed a round of the NES shooter’s six levels, I wondered just why I’d gone so many years without playing it.

Sort of an unofficial sequel to Gradius and altered version of Salamander (both well-known Konami games), Lifeforce holds true to the same basic formula that anyone with any knowledge of the majority of those shooters is as familiar with as the back of his or her hand — with one very important tweek.

Just like any old Gradius or Parodius game, the player’s ship goes through a few waves of weak enemies flying simple patterns to open each stage. The purpose of these less-than-stimulating sections is to give the player a fighting chance. Blowing up every ship in each group of enemies bestows power-ups and by collecting enough of these orbs, a slow-moving vessel with only a pathetically weak cannon gradually transforms into a speedster firing multiple missiles to take out those foes that survive the barrage of laser fire coming from both the ship and the two option pods offering support. Oh, and it also just might have acquired a forcefield for protection from most enemy projectiles. That’s always a nice thing to have.

After (hopefully) obtaining a good number of these upgrades, the main part of the level begins with the player having to survive a fair number of fiendish traps, such as rapidly appearing forcefields and moving pillars, while having to take out cunningly placed cannons before getting cornered by their fire. Survive these obstacles and a boss awaits to guard the entrance to the next level.

But, like I said, there is one alteration to this formula in Lifeforce. Here, the second, fourth and sixth levels are vertical instead of the standard horizontal. And they don’t just look different, they play different, as well. Many of those fiendish traps I described aren’t present here — but there are a good number of indestructible asteroids and other, more organic, obstacles that plummet from the top of the screen, forcing the player to use twitch reflexes here and there. And even when series staples such as the rock-spewing volcanoes or Moai heads get dusted off, the change in viewpoint almost makes them seem like an original challenge.

Not to mention that there are a couple of memorable levels in this game. The fifth level’s conclusion in a pyramid is quite impressive, especially as the structure self-destructs to reveal the giant pharaoh-head boss. I also really got into the fiery third stage and its assortment of lava waves and dragons, as well as the organic fourth level which culminates in a series of laser-shooting ribs followed by a fight with a gigantic skull.

Lifeforce does have its less-than-magnificent points, though. Like all games related to Gradius, the loss of ONE life can be absolutely crippling. All the hard work that went into turning that ship into a powerful alien-slaughtering force has been for naught, as the player now is in control of a slow-moving slug that lacks the offensive firepower to stand toe-to-toe with the majority of this game’s opposition. While I must admit that power-up orbs are a bit more easy to obtain here than in similar games, it still is no easy feat to recover from a setback.

I also felt this game could have been well-served by a couple of additional levels. With only six stages in the game, it simply doesn’t take too much time to zip through it. It’s not often that I truly feel one of these games is TOO short, but Lifeforce did give me that impression.

Still, I must admit that Konami did a stellar job in designing the levels that ARE in the game. All of them look different and are fun to play through. While the bosses are painfully easy (at least for a powered-up ship), they are quite attractive, as are most of the levels. Back in the day, when I was growing up, I used to play this game religiously and it didn’t take me too long to remember why after reuniting with it. As a NES game, it’s obvious that on an aesthetic level, Lifeforce can’t compete with more recent shooters — but for pure addictive fun, it more than holds its own.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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