Review by Dave Goss

"A cosmic snake is attacking the universe!"

Imagine if every Friday as you attempted to leave your office or school, thousands of people were flooding through the doors in the opposite direction. You would have to dart in and out between these people as they ran at you in order to reach your goal, the front door. Fortunately, every week, this mob follows the same pattern, with practice you can memorize their movements and successfully escape the building without getting trampled.

Lifeforce is just like that -- except you die repeatedly and run out of lives before reaching the front door.

Though based on the Japanese game Salamander, Lifeforce was heavily modified and actually resembles Gradius more than it resembles its source material. It utilizes the same Gradius-style power-up system, complete with those ever adorable options that mimic your every movement and action. Lifeforce was for all intents and purposes rewritten for the console, thus it has been greatly optimized for NES hardware and enemies have been placed with careful attention to efficiency. Slowdown will rarely occur and when it does, it will not result in a frustrating defeat. Unlike Gradius your death's do not result in a rebirth that violates space and time by transporting you back to some check point. The enemy armada cannot be defeated like that and Lifeforce knows this, thus it plops you right back into the steadily scrolling screen without any transition. If you are quick, you can even recover your cuddly options before they scroll out of your life forever. With unlimited continues and the 30 lives granted by the Konami code, a poor player can suffer the sting of repeated deaths and still complete a level.

But that would make you a coward.

Did the Vic Viper just continue a level when he died and cheat his way through Gradius? Never -- he returned to a sacred checkpoint and continued from there without any power-ups. You have been given a chance to continue like the Vic Viper never had, but all the lives in the world were not going to get you through Lifeforce until you memorize the location of every enemy that would assault you and can successfully navigate all flying threats that stand between you and the boss that awaits you.

Speaking of bosses, Lifeforce has them and they hate you. The levels won't be kind to you either. They are so different from those found in Salamander that it would be more accurate to call Lifeforce a game unto itself rather than an arcade to NES port. There are six levels in total, and while one might think that the final stage would be the most difficult, Konami has made a fool of your expectations by ramping up the difficulty of the third level instead. Hellfire birds dive at you, bursting into fireballs (that also dive at you) when you attempt to shoot them down, dragons breath sulfurous ash while flying around you in literal circles, and overwhelming rocks assault you from all directions while arches of lava burst forth from the sides of those impossible screens. This level is the true test of your worth. If you are fast enough to dodge those unholy things and clever enough to recall the precise movements your ship must take, you may survive this romp in the fire with all your power-ups intact. One death here and you will lose your coveted "speed up" allocations and, likely, your metaphorical coin as you arrive at the game over screen.

Yet despite all your deaths, all the frustration, all the repeated attempts, and the hopelessness that will inevitably consume you while playing Lifeforce, it is an experience that you will cherish. When you are cruising through a level, flippantly blasting away leagues of foes, humming the undeniably catchy music that accompanies every level, scrutinizing every pixel of the most aesthetically pleasing images the NES could create, everything just seems to click and the experience becomes beautiful. Until you die and lose all your power-ups. But when that happens, you will have already tasted that sweet success that awaits the patient player, and you will be compelled to continue with your quest and to refine your skills. With less investment of your time than you might think, you will master Lifeforce's levels and succeed on your indiscriminate elimination of all moving 8-bit objects. If you didn't feel inadequate enough from all your deaths the first time, you can cycle through the game up to four times with increasing difficulty. Seldom do all the elements that make the shooting genre great come together so perfectly in one game.

A cosmic snake is threatening the Universe of your NES and the only way to defeat it is to navigate your lonely ship through through the unfriendly alien armada. A lone controller sits at your feet. You know what you must do.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/14/08

Game Release: Life Force (US, 08/31/88)

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