Video Game Review: Lifeforce (NES)

Despite incredibly similar graphics, gameplay, game mechanics and developer, I never really knew that LIfeforce was a spinoff sequel to Gradius, especially since there were numbered sequels to Gradius.

It wasn’t until the ’90s or so that I pretty much figured it was either a sequel or designed by the same team, building a new game off of the Gradius model.

Well, in Japan it was called Salamander. For whatever reason, they re-titled it Lifeforce in the U.S. But some of the changes and gameplay additions ended up being adopted by future Gradius titles. Salamander itself wouldn’t get a direct sequel for a whole decade.

This was originally designed for the arcade but was quickly ported to several systems. I’ll probably check out the arcade version soon, just to compare the two.

Lifeforce is fast paced, intense and one of those games where you can find yourself completely overwhelmed in the blink of an eye. That being said, most people, myself included, probably can’t beat this game without the Konami Code. Like its use in Contra, the Code here gives the player 30 lives.

Unlike Contra, however, this game feels short on levels with only six. And honestly, that’s about my only complaint about the game. It’s so much fun, I just wish it were longer; at least an extra two levels to bring it up to eight like Contra.

What’s really unique about Lifeforce, though, is that it is both a side scroller and a vertical scroller. Odd numbered levels are sideways and even numbered levels are vertical.

The boss fights are all pretty fun too. Granted, most of the bosses are a cakewalk if you are able to upgrade your weapons quickly and then maintain them by not dying. The more suped up you are, however, the easier it is to survive and thrive.

I really love the weapon enhancements in this game. They just make you feel more badass and they make the game more fun and action heavy.

Lastly, for a simple 8-bit scrolling shooter, this has pretty solid level design. There isn’t a dull stage and some of them are kind of breathtaking. I especially love the level with the fire and flares, as well as the Egyptian-looking one.

Lifeforce is a great game for its era and for its genre. Also, it had some of the best box art in Nintendo history.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other games in the Gradius series, as well as other 8-bit Konami action shooters.

Video Game Review: Ikari Warriors (NES)

Playing this game now, I fucking hate it. I much prefer the arcade version but it was this port to the original Nintendo that I played the most.

I guess what I hate about it is that it is infuriatingly hard and it’s so damn repetitious that it gets pretty boring, really fast.

It also doesn’t help that I just played the much superior Iron Tank right before this, as well as playing through the arcade version of Mercs not too long ago.

This game is impossible to beat if you don’t use the infamous A, B, B, A code that lets you rise from the dead and play forever.

This round, I didn’t even want to be bothered with the A, B, B, A code, so I just threw in an infinite lives code with the Game Genie.

Still, playing this was tedious and annoying.

I don’t know why I played the crap out of this as a little kid. Maybe it just gets you in a trance and you just march forward, getting shot the fuck up, smashing in A, B, B, A and rising from the dead like a goddamned machine gun wielding phoenix to the dismay of your enemies that really got my adolescent rocks off? But, really, I don’t know. I think I was just happy with the games I got to play because it meant that I didn’t have to go outside in the hot, humid Southwest Florida summers.

Maybe I just thought I was John Rambo with a pink machine gun and murdering scumfucks was my bag?

Whatever, the game is mostly shit and that’s because the levels are waaay too fucking long. Seriously, Google a map of a Nintendo Ikari Warriors level and feel yourself shudder from the immense length of it. This game’s level maps are like the Ron Jeremy schlong of 8-bit level design.

Plus, the levels aren’t designed very well to begin with.

Ikari Warriors was still a super popular game. And I did like this circa 1987 but I was also a real idiot back then because I was like 8 years-old and literally thought I’d grow up and join G.I. Joe.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other 8-bit military vertical scrollers like Jackal, Iron Tank, Commando, 1942 and all its sequels/prequels.

Video Game Review: Iron Tank (NES)

Back in about fourth grade, I bought this game without ever playing it. I thought the box art was cool and I saw it quickly featured on some television show that was talking about new games coming out.

What I love about this game is that it takes the coolest part of the Ikari Warriors Nintendo game and makes an entire game out of just that.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about driving a tank.

So think about how cool it is to drive the tank whenever you find one in Ikari Warriors. But then remember how much it sucked after you got it destroyed in like ten seconds.

Well, now imagine that you just get to play that entire game with nothing but the tank! And then envision that experience with much better graphics, more fluid gameplay and a lot less frustration as you get swarmed and overwhelmed by every soldier and vehicle that a country with actual military might could throw at you!

In a nutshell, that’s Iron Tank.

Okay, maybe I oversold it a bit but I still dig the hell out of this solid game and I still find it to be fun to play every few years when I’m cycling through my NES catalog of games.

Playing through it this time was a lot of fun and it brought me back to that place where I was at the first time I played it. For an 8-bit ’80s game, it has aged pretty well. I like this so much more than the more popular Ikari Warriors game series and really, this feels like the tank version of other military vehicle vertical scrollers like Jackal and the games from the 1942 series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other 8-bit military vertical scrollers like Jackal, Ikari Warriors, Commando, 1942 and all its sequels/prequels.

Video Game Review: Jackal (NES)

Jackal is one of those underrated gems that gets overshadowed by other Konami releases for the original Nintendo.

Sadly, the Konami Code didn’t give you 30 lives like Contra or Life Force, or even 10 like Super C. But despite not having an easy hack, it was a game that I, and my friends, would often times play for hours.

It’s just simple and fun and it makes me miss the simplicity of ’80s action games.

You just play as a jeep that works its way through the map vertically, killing all the baddies and rescuing all the POWs you can. Each level has a helipad where you can drop the surviving POWs off before moving on to a big boss battle.

All the boss battles in this are also pretty solid but Konami were damn good at creating boss battles across the board from this game, the Contra games, Life ForceMetal GearRush’n Attack, etc.

In the end, this is a cool game that probably deserves more love and definitely should have had a sequel or multiple sequels.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other NES Konami games like the Contra series, the Metal Gear series, Rush’n Attack, etc.

Video Game Review: Star Wars (Arcade)

I don’t know if this was the first arcade game I played as a kid but it is the first one I remember falling in love with.

I don’t know if my love of it was because of the great gameplay, the cool wireframe graphics or simply because it was Star Wars and Star Wars was the biggest thing in my life at the time.

Recently, I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina, a place I go to every year or two, and I found an original sit-down Star Wars arcade machine in the Pinball Museum there. It was the first time I had played this in over two decades and I found out that when it comes to mastery of this game, I’ve still f’n got it!

Bragging aside, playing through this and beating it again was a hell of an awesome experience and it made me appreciate just how good of a game this was for its time.

There are only three levels but to truly beat it, you need to start on the easiest and then work your way through them all.

The game is pretty simple in that it is a rail shooter that keeps you in the cockpit of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter. Initially, you fight TIE Fighters in space and then you reach the Death Star, where you have to hit the exhaust port and blow it up.

Each level is the same sort of thing but there are different TIE Fighter formations in the space battles, as well as different parts of the Death Star to explore.

Star Wars is still one of my favorite games of all-time. It’s simple, fun, challenging and it’s aged remarkably well for something as simple as it is.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Star Wars vehicle shooters, primarily those early ’90s ones on PC.

Video Game Review: Dead Angle (Sega Master System)

Dead Angle for the Sega Master System is an okay game for its time.

Basically, it’s a side scrolling shooter where your character is a transparent wire frame with his back to you, similar to the arcade versions of Punch-Out!!

You scroll through each level, shooting gangsters while trying not to get hit.

I found the controls to be really wonky and this isn’t an easy game to play because of that. Maybe it requires a lot more practice but the repetitiveness of the game didn’t really inspire me to put in a lot of hours. I only really played this for twenty minutes before giving up on it.

The game would have benefited from being an actual shooter with a light gun. However, I guess it would’ve had to have found an alternative way of letting the player get damaged. Considering that the Sega Master System had its own light gun, similar to its main competitor Nintendo, I’m surprised that this game didn’t take advantage of that accessory.

Again, this is an okay game but there isn’t much here to keep one’s interest beyond general curiosity.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The Punisher for the original Nintendo and other side scrolling action shooters.

Video Game Review: Elevator Action (Arcade)

This was one of those games I dumped a lot of quarters into. It was always at my bowling alley and skating rink as a kid. While the video arcade had better video games, you had to take what you could get elsewhere, especially in a small town.

But that’s not to diminish the awesomeness of this game. I loved the hell out of Elevator Action. So much so that I bought the port of it for the original Nintendo.

While it may look simplistic, it’s a pretty challenging game, especially as you work your way through it. I’m not sure if it is beatable, as I’ve never beaten it and it seems to go on forever.

In the game, you start each stage by grappling onto a roof, then you work your way down every single floor from the rooftop to the street level. You can use elevators and stairs but you have to dodge the bullets of the baddies while also trying to shoot them yourself.

My only gripe about the arcade version is that the controls can feel wonky and slow to react sometimes. Still, once you play it enough, your brain kind of adjusts to that. But that also doesn’t excuse the fact that you just can’t dodge in time.

Elevator Action is mostly just mindless entertainment and a good time killer. But for what it is, it is one of the best of its era. And despite being pretty straightforward and a bit basic, it’s still a good challenge.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: games like Lode RunnerBurger Time and Elevators.