Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus Review

SalamanderSalamander Deluxe Pack Plus (Available on PlayStation, and SEGA Saturn)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: June 19th, 1997 (Sat), July 6th, 1997 (PS1)

Parent Talk: Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus is a shmup collection featuring three fantastic shooters from the mid-eighties to mid-nineties.  These games feature some funky graphics like 2D animated brains with arms, and bizarre creations like that.  I used to play this series when I was but a youngster and I turned out just fine (Editor’s note: that’s debatable).

Plays Like: Have you ever played Gradius, well then you know what to expect here.  You get in the cockpit of the Vic Viper and destroy absolutely everything in your path.  “Simple” as that.

Review Basis: Having owned this Saturn gem for many years, I’ve completed all three games in the collection many times over.  These are true arcade classics.

If there’s one shmup collection I simply had to own, it was the Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus.  The ‘Plus’ is because unlike the other Deluxe Packs Konami released on the Saturn and PS1 during the mid-nineties, this collection features three games instead of two.  These are some of the very best shooters ever released, and much like Gradius, have stood the test of time perfectly.   

The Great:

Salamander – Coming hot off the heels of Gradius, Konami wanted a spin-off series that featured a more organic setting, and thus Salamander was born.  You still took control of the Vic Viper, but here a second player could join the fray in the Road British Space Destroyer (also called Lord British).  Gone was Gradius’ power-up meter, meaning players could get power-ups in the form of individual icons.  A shield would have its own icon, options another, and so on.  Speaking of shields, one of the game’s biggest issues is with the shield power-up because it only protects one side of the ship and considering how rare the power-up is, you’re almost never protected on both sides.  Salamander also introduced the combination of horizontal and vertical levels, which many other Konami shooters would follow.

Life Force – If you’ve heard the name before, odds are it’s because of the NES classic.  Well sorry to disappoint you, but this is actually a port of the arcade version of the game.  That means it’s about a thousand times faster than the NES version and significantly harder.  As a matter of fact the NES game isn’t related to this one at all.  It combined levels from Salamander and the arcade version of Life Force so in essence it’s basically its own game.  To get back on track, Life Force is essentially a palette swap of Salamander.  It’s basically the exact same game except everything looks even more organic.  The story is that you’re inside some giant alien beast, trying to kill it from the inside out before it destroys planet Gradius.  The gameplay is radically different though because it features the Gradius power meter, meaning you collect power orbs and trigger the special you want to use.

Salamander 2 – The real prize in this collection is this bad boy right here.  Having never been released outside Japan, Salamander 2 features the same gameplay from the first game, but fixes one of that game’s biggest issues, the shield power-up.  Here, whenever you collect a shield power-up the Vic Viper gets a force field that covers the entire ship.  This makes things are more manageable.  Many enemies from the Gradius series are featured as well, and overall the game looks absolutely gorgeous for its 1996 release date.

The Good:

+ All three games feature spot-on controls.  If you die, it’s because you did something wrong, not because of input lag.

+ Each game has a difficulty setting, but even playing on Saturn Easy mode I was barely able to make it past the third level of the first two games.

+ This collection features an incredible amount of fantastic tunes.  I love how each game has a sound test mode, making the songs super easy to rip onto your MP3 player.  It might sound nerdy, but damn are these catchy songs.  Konami were the kings of 8-bit music, and it shows when you can listen to these classic tracks over twenty years later and still enjoy them.

+ Visually the older two games look nice and crisp, as they should because they’re arcade perfect.  Salamander 2, while also arcade perfect, looks significantly better than the other games in the collection, for obvious reasons.  It’s a newer game, having been released in 1996, and features extremely detailed sprite-world and even polygons!  My goodness, the future is now!!!

The So-So:

+/- Each of the three games have only six stages, and two of the games are virtual carbon copies of each other.  That might appear skimpy, but these games will devour your soul so any more than six stages and you’d never make it out with your controller and TV intact.

The Ugly:

Having not played any of these games for a number of years now, capturing footage for the video review was agonizing.  These games are absolutely brutal!  The first two include NO CONTINUES!  That’s right ladies and gentlemen, even your beloved Konami code grants you squat.  Thankfully Salamander 2 offers players unlimited continues, but that’s the only one.  I guess that’s how you know these are all arcade perfect titles as the original arcade games didn’t offer continues in the single player mode, and only two continues in the multiplayer mode, which also holds true here as well.  Ouch!  Needless to say, this is a game for the most hardcore shooting fans.

The Lowdown:

Your enjoyment with this game will be based purely on your love of this series.  If you’re a hardcore fan, you’ll think this is the ultimate collection.  If you never really thought the series deserved all the attention it got, then obviously this isn’t for you.  For someone like me it’s a classic, and one of the must-have titles to purchase on your SEGA Saturn or your imported PS1.  Be warned though, this isn’t a cheap game, but for old-school arcade fans, it’s worth every single penny.

Final Score: 8.5/10

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