Nothing like Centipede or Snake.

Source // OPCFG

The name threw me off, it must be said. What do you think a game called Salamander could possibly be about? If there's no cartoony reptile bouncing around some kind of platformer then there's going to be hell to pay. What's that? Sequel/Spin off to Gradius? Oh. You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention...

We've heard this before: Salamander is a side scrolling space shooter, but what else does it do? If it spawned from Gradius then I'm expecting some good times ahead - ignoring all the stupid mistakes and deaths that will inevitably come my way.

Are you seeing what I'm seeing?


Salamander was tricky to track down. There are multiple ports across many decades worth of systems so finding any version isn't too hard, but when it can sometimes be found under the guise of Life Force, I've got to double check what it is I'm even playing.

I settled on Life Force for the NES, but this was a mistake. I say this not because it is a bad game - it's not - but because all the ports each have their own little quirks, and the quirk of the NES port is that it carries over the weapon/power-up selection/upgrade system from Gradius, and doesn't use the new system from Salamander.

None of this will make a whole lot of sense until you see (or better yet, play) Salamander in as original a way as possible.

Fun Times

As you can see, from the very beginning you can tell Salamander has seen what Gradius was all about, before deciding 'yup, I want more of that, and faster'. Gone is the power up bar of old, replaced with power-ups, power-ups and more power-ups. Collect them all. Use them all. Have your ship dazzle the enemy from the moment the first stage starts to get going. Salamander gives you the goods in seconds, making you feel like a king. You've still got to earn them, but it doesn't take hours of practice like it may have done in the past.

Also new is the continue system, where death is merely a brief set back. A new ship spawns instantly for you, wherever you were in the level, and if you're quick you can even salvage some of your power-ups to keep at least some of your flow going. You're still limited to how many lives you have in total, but as far as keeping the pace up and the action coming thick and fast, this continue system delivers.

Whether you make it through the stages by skill or by slotting more money into the machine, you'll soon come across another of Salamander's new additions - vertical stages. Perhaps not absolutely radical as far as innovations go, but a nice change of scenery for players.

Otherwise, it appears to be same old, same old. Not to drag it down, but this is a space shooter, what else do you expect? You move a ship, you shoot, things blow up. Been there, done that, but do you want to do you again? Yeah, you probably do.

Final Word

Salamander would go on to influence not only future Gradius titles, but so called bullet hell shooters as their own genre. Quite a feat, and quite unfortunate that I haven't gotten around to playing it 'properly'.

At this stage I'd pick Gradius over Salamander, but by the time the next Gradius game comes out, even Gradius has chosen Salamander over Gradius. Konami must be laughing. Probably rolling in dough though, seeing as they developed both titles.

The name might not have stood the test of time, but the mechanics have, so it's well worth a play to see where it all began. Or began to be refined. These beginnings get fuzzy sometimes.

Fun Facts

If things look a little organic, it's because the game is set inside an alien life-force. Kinda like the Exogorth from The Empire Strikes Back. Yeah, you go ahead and search for that on Wookiepedia.

Salamander, developed by Konami, first released in 1986.
Version played: NES, 1988, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1986 (Were1974)