Title: Arcade Archives Life Force
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 02/27/2020
In this side-scrolling arcade shooter, you take control of the Vic Viper and Lord British as they set out to stop the evil Zelos Force from attacking the planet Latis! This ACA release also includes the Japanese version of Life Force, which properly reskins the entire game into a weird biological theme, while the US version just adds a lame web background and introduces a stupid made-up plot about a robot getting a virus.
Being yet another ACA title, this uses all the same features and options as most of the other ones: scanlines, a basic background, display adjustments, all those return along with the sound manipulation. There really isn’t much new here on the presentation front in that sense.
For the game itself, Salamander/Life Force looks pretty darn good, with well-made sprites that add plenty of detail compared to the original Gradius, along with a fantastic soundtrack. As noted before, the backgrounds are barely edited for the US Life Force, along with the stupid made up plot that game was given, but for the Japanese version, they’re much more detailed and almost all of the enemies have been edited accordingly, including all but two of the bosses. It also swaps three songs out with three brand new ones that sound equally as amazing as the original score, so this game nails it on the audio front.
To make things even better, the voice samples (As annoying as some of them can be) are accurately represented and reproduced in this Arcade Archives release, which is a big plus over most emulators like MAME that completely botch and ruin their quality. Yes, this means Zelos’ death scream is as short and simple as it was meant to be, and not a glitchy drawn out mess like it is in MAME emulators. Accuracy was clearly a priority here, and I’m glad for that.
I previously reviewed the US Life Force last April when it was included on the Konami Arcade Anniversary Collection, and back then I found it to be a very fun shooter that mixed horizontal and vertical action for a challenging yet addicting experience.
For the most part, that still applies in this port, and most of the options are exactly the same, including the amount of lives you can change and whatnot. The Arcade compilation got a patch to let you play Salamander a few months after launch, but outside of better backgrounds and dumping the nonsensical story, it’s the exact same game.
This ACA port on the other hand, is still definitely worth the buy even if you already own that compilation due to some major factors: For starters, you can turn on a setting that outright allows you to credit feed to a limited extent in Salamander/US Life Force, letting you reach the end of the game with little ease if you turn it all the way up. (which allows for around sixty lives or so)
You can also change some features of the game itself, from changing the wonky behavior of the shield, messing with slowdown or audio channels, to nerfing the boss of Stage 4, who would normally shoot blue balls infinitely until he was killed, leading to a near impossible survival situation after a few seconds of starting the battle. Change the setting, and he’s much slower and doesn’t shoot as much, meaning the battle is much more balanced.
The biggest reason comes from the inclusion of a title that wasn’t part of the Arcade collection in any region, and that’s the Japanese version of Life Force. While it still retains that weird, stupid biological vore theme that’s all the craze these days, it actually tries to have it make some sense: The enemies are more organic looking, the bosses are more mutant/eerie, and the stages have backgrounds that fit the scenes accordingly. (well, with the exceptions of Stages 4 and 6, where they just gave up and take you to outer space for some reason)
The biggest change this game makes comes from ditching the old powerup system and replacing it with the Gradius one, letting you collect power capsules and power up your ship however you’d like! Since P2 also has a different weapon layout, you can create a lot more firepower in a shorter amount of time, making this an easier game even if you can’t credit feed anymore. In a way, you have two completely separate games, and it definitely is quality enough to be worth checking out in this release, certainly better than the boring reskin we got in the west.
In conclusion, Salamander/Life Force is as still as outstanding of a shooter as it has ever been, and this Arcade Archives release maintains all of that perfectly, even adding more options compared to the version in the Anniversary Collection. Combine that with the inclusion of Japanese Life Force, an oft-forgotten take on Salamander with a new power up system and some balancing tweaks, and you have one of the best Arcade Archive releases to ever exist.
The Caravan Mode and Hi-Score mode return too, and both games are perfect fits for those modes due to their genre. Definitely check this out if you haven’t already, especially if you don’t even own the Arcade Compilation and have never played this amazing gem of a game before, or if you’ve only touched the NES port.
I give Arcade Archives LIFE FORCE a 9 out of 10.