The Star Soldier


Artist touch: What could be more freaky then a giant snake on fire in deep space? This is cool art but it doesn't really tell me this is a shooter though. Cover art rating: 7/10
Month it won: March 2006

(Konami, October 1988)
Special note: Although the Salamander series is popular in Japan this is the only game in that series to make it to North America so far.
Introduction and Story:
In my third Nintendo Entertainment System game of this special 6 Stud or Dud part series I'm looking back at one of most underrated titles (in my opinion at least) for the system. Konami's Life Force is another one of their space shoot em ups where you pick the weapons you want and blast anything that gets in the way over several cool looking stages. See why I'm so upset at Konami for not giving me a sequel!

In the game there is a giant salamander ripping through the galaxy destroying entire planets on its mission for food. Your planet is next on the chopping block and in a last ditch effort to fight back you or a friend must journey through 6 different levels has you try to destroy the planet of Zelos and the dangerous salamander end boss in both vertical and side scrolling stages. If you fail your whole world will be wiped out completely. No pressure, eh?
Controls and Game Play:
The story not only sounds pretty grim but the game itself is damn hard! When you first start out the adventure inside the organic stage you have to fly through walls but may or may not actually grow around you. It sure doesn't get any easier in the next levels but at least the controls are very user friendly so you can't blame them when you die. OK, this may be one tough game but if you loved Konami's other difficult shooter Gradius then you will feel right at home here. Like Gradius you fly through several forced scrolling stages and you can also upgrade your ship with six different power ups (Speed, Missiles, Ripple, Laser, Options, and Force Field) for help. You can even upgrade your Missiles and Lasers multiple times but the big difference between the two games is the full two player support now. Instead of taking turns you and a friend can fight evil aliens together or you can just be a total jerk and steal all the power ups for yourself to get the higher points. Another new edition to Life Force is the ability to continue in the same place after you lose a life making the game a lot less frustrating then the insanely difficult Gradius.
Graphics and Sounds:  

I don't know what that thing is but it looks cool.
Sure, the game plays fine but one of the coolest things things about Life Force here is the game's absolutely stunning graphics. In level 3 for example you actually get to see several giant solar flares shoot across the entire screen. I was so freaked out from seeing one of those things for the first time that it nearly made me wet my pants and it killed me instantly before I could even react (again, this is a very tough game). That stage also has well animated fire from both the top and bottom to show off what this old gray box can still do. Each of the six different stages comes with its own theme like old ruins or organic fresh and these strange worlds each come with a unique group of enemies or obstacles so the game never feels repetitious (unlike some other lamer and less popular shooters like Trevor McFur and Mission Cobra). Each stage also has their own boss opponent and they are not only huge and menacing but they are fairly detailed as well.

Konami not only did a great job on the graphics but the game even sounds amazing. All the weapons here sound fairly realistic (although I still don't have a clue what a Ripple Laser would sound like in real life, the game makes me believe that's what it is) and the cool sci-fi music even fits the levels well too. Some of the best music in my opinion is in later Fortress and Egypt-like levels here and I actually replayed the game again and again just to see and hear these unique stages one more time.
The Bottomline:  
Even though this great game plays a lot famous Gradius, this is not the real Gradius II as some people may think. We never saw the true sequel released over here on the NES (again, screw you Konami!), this is more of a spin off of that popular arcade shooter. Sadly, the Life Force series is much more popular in Japan and we didn't see many of the other sequels to this game either which also sucks.

That's a real shame because with its sharp looks, cool weapons, great music, and full two player support there is definitely a lot to like here. OK, maybe the game was a bit too hard for the casual gamer but it never fealt unfair and the more you play it, the more you master it. If you like shooters and if you are searching for a tough but fun game then Life Force is definitely a must have for your NES collection and it's still one of my personal favourites as well, baby!
overall rating: 96/100

Find this game on eBay here!

For 1 or 2 players
graphics: 9/10
sound: 9/10
gameplay: 7/10
replay: 8/10

(Ryan Genno) 2006

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