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Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus

Reviewed by: Rob StrangmanMedia: CD
Released by: KonamiStatus: out of print
Platform: Sony PlayStationNumber of games: 3
Year released: 1997Players: 1-2 (simultaneous)

Games included:
SalamanderLife ForceSalamander 2

The Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus was never released outside of Japan, and it is quite a coveted import. However, unlike the other deluxe packs which only have two games per disc, this one has three (hence the "Plus" part of the title). Salamander (originally released in 1986) resembles the original Gradius on the surface, just in a more organic setting. Unlike Gradius, however, Salamander can be played by two players simultaneously (along with all of the other games in the series). Player one takes control of the Vic Viper, while player two controls the RoadBritish Space Destroyer, which debuted in this game. One thing is instantly noticable: the complete lack of the classic Gradius power meter. In Salamander, you actually pick up power-up icons, much like you do in just about every other shooter ever made. Life Force (originally released in 1987, and not the same game you may remember from the NES) looks identical to Salamander, except that just about anything mechanical has been thrown out and replaced completely by organic matierial. The reason for this is that Life Force is Salamander, just with palette swaps for some of the characters and certain enemies and items redrawn to look organic (according to the story, you're supposed to be flying through the guts of a gigantic, planet eating alien named Zelos that's going to eat planet Gradius unless you stop him. That was changed in the U.S. release to some kind of medical/surgery related story, similar to the Body Wars attraction at Disney's EPCOT Center in Florida). Besides that, there are a few small things that make Life Force almost a completely seperate game: the inclusion of the Gradius power meter, for one. This makes Life Force much easier than Salamander.
Salamander: Avoid the giant gnashing teeth.

What's considered by most to be the real treat on the disc is Salamander 2 (originally released in 1996). This game never saw the light of day in U.S. arcades, much like Gradius IV which was released only two years later. Salamander 2 dropped the Gradius power meter in favor of the original Salamander powerup system. An all new feature of the game was the ability to power up your weapons even more by picking up two of the same kind. For instance, the Cyclone laser would be upgraded to the Hyper laser by picking up another Cyclone laser icon. The difficulty of both Salamander and Life Force is high. Most rookies will get their asses handed to them in just a few minutes. You have no continues in either game, so once your lives are gone, that's it, unless you're playing a two player game, where you can actually continue up to two times. Salamander 2 would be the hardest of the three, except for one thing: you have unlimited continues. In all three games, though, whenever you die, you're resurrected in the same spot. In Salamander 2 and in the two player versions of Salamander and Life Force you continue exactly where your game ended. These two things combined does make all three games a bit easier than the much harder Gradius series. Additionally, you don't have to reset the system to choose between games - you do have the option to exit from the title screen of each game and go to one of the others. That's an extremely helpful option, which is something the earlier deluxe packs lacked.
Life Force: It's Salamander with an organic facelift. That's cool.

The music in both Salamander and Life Force is typical of Konami's arcade games from the mid-80s, and isn't unpleasant to listen to at all. Most of the music will be recognizable to fans of the series. Salamander 2's music is made up of entirely new compositions for the most part, although in Loop 2 new versions of classic Salamander themes resurface (there's even a new version of one of the themes from Thundercross too, although I'm not sure which one it is). Konami was nice enough to include sound tests for all three games, which contain unused and demo music as well as all the music heard in the games. That's a feature that Konami should have included in the Gradius Deluxe Pack, but didn't. Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus is a worthy arcade compilation, and a fantastic addition to Konami's deluxe pack line. One thing I should mention are the absolutely gorgeous CG openings (two of them: one for Salamander and Life Force, the other for Salamander 2!) on the disc. They're almost as good as the opening of the Gradius Deluxe Pack. Also, for those of you that are familiar with the MSX version of Salamander, here's an interesting bit of trivia: the music that's heard in the opening of the MSX game was remade as the title screen music for the deluxe pack. That was a nice touch on Konami's part. While some kind of history section like those featured in the Namco Museum and Capcom Generation series would have been welcome, the lack of one doesn't detract from its quality. It's definitely my favorite out of all of the deluxe packs Konami produced.
Salamander 2: ...and just when you thought you had to fight the Golem again, this thing ate it. Then it attacked you. Story of your life, right?

Worth the purchase: Definitely, if for no other reason than to be able to play Salamander 2 at home.

Diversity: You get all of the Salamander games with the exception of the NES, C64 and MSX ports. Not bad at all.

Playability: No control issues here that I'm aware of.

Hidden gems: N/A