So, for Issue 2 of Nintendo Power, I picked for my game of choice Life Force by Konami, which was billed as the spiritual successor to Gradius.
To be frank, it has a lot in common with Gradius – both in terms of the ship design, most of the weapons in the game (laser, missile, option) and the power-up system in general. In general, the game controls pretty well, though I’m playing this with the X-Box 360 controller rather than the the NES controller, so I have an Analog Stick to work with. Anyway, the weapons work very well, and the game’s new weapon, the pulse cannon, works significantly better than the similar weapon from R-Type.
Ultimately though, if you want to make a good shump, what you need is good combination of solid controls, good level design, good weapon selection (and the weapons don’t have to be original, necessarily, they just need to be useful), and good enemy design – with both the generic enemies and the bosses, and both in terms of their movements, and in terms of their attack pattern (how do they move, do they fire bullets, if so how many bullets to they fire, how fast do they travel, and so on). Oh, and you can’t have slowdown.
So, with Life Force, the level design is okay. The game borrows some of the techno-organic visual themes that were used in R-Type (as well as earlier in Alien) for some of the early stages, and pulls it off fairly well. Later stages involve an astroid enviroment, and diving into a sun. In general, all of these stages work decently. This doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have its problems in the levels. Several of the levels require the player to shoot through a large, wide barrier by blasting a hole through it with your cannons. To aggrivate things, they also have enemies shooting at you for some of the levels, and they may also have the barrier regenerate behind you (depending on the level). Consequently, if you die in any of these sequences, you’ll likely end up dying multiple times, unfortunately.
There isn’t a password mode, so you can come back to the game later, so you have to go through this in one play-thru. For better or worse, when you die, you’ll start almost where you were, rather than being bumped back to a prior checkpoint, so if you get through a long set-piece segment (such as in the first game where you were bombarded by volcanos), if you die immediately after getting through the sequence, you don’t have to go through the sequence again. Unfortunately, if you need to Continue, you have to go back to the beginning of the level (and I’m pretty sure that Continuing doesn’t replentish the number of lives supplied by the Konami Code).
Speaking of which, the Konami Code does work in this game, getting you 30 lives from the title screen, and supposedly getting you a full stock of power ups when used while paused in game, but I couldn’t pull it off, so I can’t confirm that.
The game has one other problem of note that I find significant – the game encounteres some slowdown problems on the second level. While I am playing the game using Emulation, I also made sure I didn’t have any background processes running in the background that could be slowing down performance, and I’m using a system that is significantly faster than the NES.
Does It Live Up To The Hype: Yes, it does. This is a good, solid, shoot-em-up, and definitely a worthy successor to Gradius.