Note: Salamander was reviewed on actual Turbografx 16 hardware with no emulation. This game was imported from Japan.
Above: The most badass game cover ever made.
It is Salamander for the PC-Engine. Does this game stand the test of time? Is it an enduring classic? Does it keep you coming back for more? And most important of all… will it earn the Malstrom Award, the most coveted award in all of video gaming? The reader is breathless with anticipation! Good.
Salamander is a port of the arcade game with the same name. Salamander is a spin-off from Konami. The port of Salamander to the NES was named Life Force with massive changes including using the Gradius power-up system and different levels. This Salamander is a faithful port of the arcade with one major exception: it is harder. When you die, you do not reappear. You go back from a check-point. One hit, you die. Unless you have shields, you are out of luck. If you play with another player (Salamander offers co-op multiplayer), one person dying means they can immediately come back assuming the other player doesn’t die then.
It is interesting to look at Salamander in a context other than ‘source material for Life Force’ since Salamander is on the Turbografx 16: otherwise known as Shmup-Land. How does it compare in such a crowded field? There are so many shmups on the system, does it get lost with the rest?
Is Salamander a horizontal or vertical scrolling shmup? The answer is ‘Yes’. Odd stages are horizontal, even stages are vertical. As far as I know, Salamander is the only shmup to offer both vertical and horizontal scrolling levels which, itself, is very noteworthy and shows how much work was done on this game.
Above: Salamander gameplay
Second, Salamander offers two player co-operative gameplay. While 2 player co-op is not unknown with shmups, believe it or not, many shmups do not offer such a feature. In Shmup-Land (Turbografx 16 library), the only other shmup I know that offers co-op is Aero Blasters. The co-op gameplay is very significant to note as it was uncommon.
Third, the game is Classic Konami meaning it has a sense of weight that I see no other games be able to pull off. Saying a game like Castlevania has ‘personality’ is an understatement. In Salamander, you have what feels like a rich, textured little universe. The sheer variety of enemies, bosses, and stages is consistently interesting and shows Konami was a top tier shmup maker (they had to be as they made Gradius).
Above: Music of Salamander is top notch. Very intense.
Last, Salamander is hard. I think it may be the hardest shmup on the Turbografx 16. It is harder than the arcade since the port puts you back to checkpoints when you die. There is even an ‘expert’ mode you can play to make the game more challenging. Even experienced Life Force NES veterans are going to find themselves getting their shit wrecked with this game. Salamander is faster and more intense. If you want to play an easier game, go play Dark Souls.
Above: A quick look at Salamander gameplay
What is so great about this game is how wonderful it feels to get wrecked over and over again. The game never feels cheap. The massive challenge makes the game addictive. You keep coming back to it again and again. One very interesting thing I’ve noticed is that today’s games, because of how expensive they are to make content, want to show you the entire game. Hard games of today tend to use minimal art. But Salamander is richly content game. Punching through the challenge allows you to see more of this Classic Konami wonderful world.
Above: A more in depth look at Salamander
I cannot get too far in this game. It doesn’t matter. I still enjoy it. I look forward to keep trying.
As those know, the only metric for the ‘review’ is to measure the irrational: do I keep returning to it? In this case, I very much do. Salamander may be one of the best games in the entire Turbografx 16 library. Salamander is as classic as Gradius. This is a high challenge game that I will keep coming back to for a long time. Once I beat it, I have an expert mode to beat too. So much value if you look at it in that way!
Above: Salamander versus Life Force on the NES. What is different?
Salamander gets the Malstrom Award. It is a game that has aged like fine wine. Let me open up the bottle and pour you a glass, reader. *pops* *glug glug glug* There you go, reader. Taste it. You see? You see when Salamander the arcade game was made. “1986!?” Yes, reader. 1986: a great year for gaming.
Above: Salamander gets the Malstrom Award. It is an enduring classic for the ages. It. Will. Not. Age.
Disclaimer: The ‘quality’ is gauged only by how often I return to the game. TG16 games are not isolated; they are compared to every other game out there. A game can be ‘bad’ and keep me coming back. A game can be ‘good’ that I never want to touch again. Irrational addictive-ness, which defies quantification, is the only element examined here.
-TG 16 Games Reviewed So Far-
Malstrom Awards: (Addictive and Awesome even today, they refuse to age. Score of 10)
Devil’s Crush (Imaginative sound and gothic theme. You’ll keep coming back to this one.)
Galaga ’90 (Purest shmup I have ever seen. This will still be played 50 years from now.)
Gradius (Four options can cause slowdown, but this arcade port remains difficult and legendary.)
Final Soldier (Good music and polish, easier difficulty, multiple powerup options. laser bubbles! Consistently fun.)
R-type (Never gets old because it can never be beaten. Fun to try here and there.)
Salamander (Challenging and addictive. If you like NES Life Force, you will love this.)
Honorable Mentions: (Good games that are flawed or gameplay has suffered aging. Score of 6-9)
(8) World Court Tennis (Most interesting RPG on the TG 16. Seriously.)
(7) Alien Crush (Interesting, addictive, but flawed. Good to play as a break to Devil’s Crush)
(6) Bonk’s Adventure (Meh platformer oozes incredible charm)
(6) Boxy Boy (Solid puzzle game, but it gets stale fast. Contains level editor.)
Don’t bother: (Not fun to play today. Score of 5 and below.)
(5) Military Madness (Overrated, dated gameplay, repetitious, dull colorless setting of the moon)
(5) Neutopia (boring, bad game design, can’t hold a candle to Zelda, fire wand is only thing going for this game)
(4) Bomberman (dull and boring, totally surpassed by its sequels on this system)
(4) Ninja Gaiden (Compared to NES: worse sound and controls, terrible parallax scrolling. Nothing to see here.)
(3) Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition (2 button controller is terrible for 6 button game. Good luck getting a 6 button controller.)
(1) Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (The 16 bit version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)