Salamander 2
by sunburstbasser





Salamander 2 is a vertically scrolling shooter which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. There is no narrative to indicate this.

Konami released Salamander 2 in 1996. Salamander 2 runs on Konami's GX hardware, also used for a pair of Parodius games. Like those games, Salamander 2 has extremely colorful and detailed graphics but the style is dark and organic rather than bright and cartoony.

The gameplay has been lifted straight from the original arcade version of Salamander, re-worked and re-released as Life Force. Think a faster Gradius, with the powerup bar replaced with collectible items. Now add instant respawn on death and 2-player simultaneous action, and you have the Salamander style. Player 1 will fly a blue Vic Viper, player 2 will command a red Super Cobra (when I'd personally rather have the Lord British). Button A shoots, Button B is the Option launcher. While the game isn't a bullet hell shooter, the back fourth or so of the sprite isn't affected by bullets or terrain, making the game a little more forgiving than many Konami shooters.

Let's take a look at those powerups:

S IS FOR SPEEDUP
The Konami staple returns. I found that collecting one was sufficient, more skilled players might prefer two and anything more than that is a detriment.

M IS FOR MISSILE
Konami wisely put both the main shot and the missile on one button, unlike the early Gradius arcade games. Always useful for ground enemies. Grabbing a second M turns it into the twin missile, sending a second missile up and across the ceiling. I'm not sure it does anything in the vertical levels as I always had two missiles at once in those levels.

L IS FOR LASER
The classic long and narrow Gradius laser. It isn't as long this time, and the built-in autofire on it is fast enough that button mashing isn't required. Collect a second L to turn it into a pink death ray that does huge damage.

T IS FOR TWIN LASER
In Thunder Cross, the twin laser shot forwards and backwards. Here, it's just two thin beams that shoot forwards. Collecting a second T makes them larger and more powerful.

R IS FOR RIPPLE LASER
The Ripple Laser was introduced in Salamander. It fires a ring that expands as it travels. Collect a second R to make it wider and stronger.

FORCE FIELD
A blue orb in a container. Collect it to get the full-coverage shield. Much more useful than the front-only shield from the original Gradius and Salamander.

OPTIONS
Rather than an icon, Options are actually green orbs that turn blue and pulsate when collected. Standard Gradius-style options, they follow your movements and shoot when you shoot.

OPTION SEED
These half-size options rotate around your ship firing forward with the standard weapon. Collect a second one to power them up to true options and enable laser weapons and missiles.

After collecting options, pressing the B button will launch one out as a powerful homing attack that will do heavy damage to anything it touches. In return, that option is reduced to an option seed. If the attack is used with a seed, it rotates around the ship. I noticed that the game is fairly generous with options, and it seems that this attack is meant to be used regularly rather than as a last resort. Some bosses would even drop options or option seeds.

The hardware that Salamander 2 runs on is not that far off, capability wise, from what Xexex used for sprites and tiles. It also adds some extra hardware for 3D effects. The various worm based enemies, like those right in the beginning of Stage 1, are rendered using this hardware. The graphics are very detailed with lots of colors and effects. The colors used are fairly dark, and give the game a menacing quality. Several of the organic enemies explode in a bloody mess when shot, a nice touch.

The music and sound effects are both well-done, with traditional Konami bass and the upbeat style of their other shooters. To hear some of the best music it is necessary to reach the second loop and hear the remixed music from earlier Konami games. The theme from Stage 1 of the original Salamander was always a bit creepy but here it becomes rather chilling. In the sounds department, mechanical enemies make the chirping sounds like in many Konami shooters, while organic enemies can make squishy noises when they pop. Lasers have a buzz that lends an electric vibe. Lots of voice clips too, letting you know that, yes, that really WAS a Ripple Laser you picked up and that the weak spot is the head.



The first stage begins with huge-ass worms following predetermined patterns. They can't be destroyed, but they aren't hard to avoid. A few powerups can be picked up in the usual Konami method of destroying a red enemy or a row of popcorn enemies. Right as the level proper begins, a mass of eyes stare at the screen like old cartoons. As the lights come back on, say hello to Golem, the brain boss from the original Salamander! He's back and has a bunch of little brains to shoot with him. He backs off the screen, just be careful of his waving arms and he won't hurt you. The first stage is otherwise based heavily on the original Stage 1 of Salamander, with the teeth moving up and down and lots of squishy organic goodness to blow up. Reach what looks like the intestinal tract and Golem appears now firing three-way lasers. They aren't hard to avoid. Just as the boss fight starts to heat up, it's over.

Say goodbye to Golem and "Hello, Biter!" This silly looking snake beast is the true first boss and after helping himself to a medium-rare Golem he is ready for a Vic Viper desert. Actually not at all hard, as his attacks consist of little worms with neat animations and a ram attack that should never connect. Shoot the uvula or whatever that thing is in his throat to beat him. If you desire, drag the fight out and kill off the little worms as they will randomly drop powerups.



Once Biter dies, prepare for another throwback to Salamander as the next stage is vertically oriented. This one takes place in space rather than inside anything. Notice how most vertical shmups take place in a narrow window in MAME? That is because they were intended to be played on a vertically oriented monitor. Re-orienting the monitor isn't exactly feasible during gameplay, so Salamander 2 has a wide playing field instead of a narrow strip. Yet like those vertically oriented games, Stage 2 features a ton of scrolling left and right to fit the whole level in. The level looks to be more than a screen and a half wide, and it takes a lot of movement to get from one side to the other.

The stage itself has many groups of popcorn enemies, but is more notable for the huge flaming Death Stars and solar flares (similar to Gradius II). The Death Stars have a blue core and when approached light themselves on fire and approach the player. They take quite a few hits to destroy, so if they start piling up try out those homing options. The solar flares aren't too deadly if they are on screen, but if they are left or right and not on the visible portion take care not to run into them.

The boss is a mechanical dragon with a bunch of heads. Their main attack is a thin fire ball, one per head. Stay to the sides to avoid it. When they all pull in, they unleash a solar flare. Put your options in front of it if you have any left and get a few free hits in. The heads tend to drop options when destroyed, so sit back and use your own homing options to quickly dispatch this beast.



Stage 3 returns to a horizontal level and is more organic weirdness. This one has more reds and pinks than the first stage, giving it a meaty look. Long skinny worms dot the level and have very cool animations. Looks like Konami really liked their worms for this one. Homing tentacles also make an appearance here. These guys just try to reach out for the player. Shoot them to make them retract or blast the balls they come out of to kill them.

The boss is an interesting one. The first part is effectively a wall of gooey bits that need to be destroyed to get to the gray eye. This part isn't too bad and with homing options is relatively short. Then the eye pops out and starts floating around the screen releasing a crap load of bullets. These aren't aimed and at this point the slightly reduced hitbox is a godsend as it isn't too tough to get between those bullets. Just don't sit too close to the eye and don't get greedy trying to re-capture shot options.



The fourth stage is the now required giant battleship fought in space. I would have loved to kill a giant space turtle, but this works OK too. Two smaller ships start the stage and can be taken out with a single shot of the homing options. Then it's time to contend with two much larger ships. These guys are lined with turrets on the top and lots of destructible pieces all over. The second ship has some walking tanks that are invincible, but die very easily once they start flying. Stay in front of the first ship once you've passed the nose or it WILL crush you against the ceiling.

The boss is a classic Konami Big Core variation. This one is called Tenny Rop, but it's a variation on Tetran. Four arms spin around a standard Big Core. The difference here is that the Big Core section is protected by a rotating shield and is only vulnerable for short times. This boss usually isn't very hard in any Gradius game and the only thing hard here are the small enemies that fire bullet spreads. Again, not deadly on their own but the bullets can push you into the tentacles. In a bit of mercy, the enemies that fire those bullets drop powerups when destroyed.



Stage 5 is an asteroid level. The level is extremely tall, about two screens tall or so. The level at first seems to be an infinite scrolling level, but it's just really big. Asteroids break up into smaller pieces that can also be shot, just like every asteroid in a shmup since Asteroids. The powered up Laser is very good for breaking rocks. A few large asteroids feature tight passageways with turrets in them. If the turrets are destroyed, these passages provide respite from the chaos however without missiles some of the turrets are difficult to hit and can point- blank the Vic Viper.

The boss is a wall of cores. This has been done before, but I don't believe ever like this. The boss fight still has the large scrolling play field, and consists of many small cores behind barriers. In addition, a large shelled enemy will follow your movements and try sit in a horizontal line with your ship. It can be destroyed, it just takes a lot of bullets. Smaller ships also fire bullets at you. Despite the number of projectiles, I didn't find it too hard to get between bullets. The vertical space helps, as it is possible to move far enough away that the spread between bullets becomes pretty big.



Stage 6 is the second vertical stage and the last stage of the game. The game has gotten steadily harder up to here but I have a lot more trouble with this one. Notably, the level consists of ice crystals that take a lot of hits to destroy and pile up very quickly. Combined with small enemies firing aimed shots, lives are easy to lose. The level has a few battleships as well with many destructible portions. Most of these sections reveal powerups. The boss is made of three pieces, each firing thin green lasers. While they usually fire them straight, they can fire them in an arc and maneuvering room is tight when they come from all over. Occasionally they'll all fire a straight red laser the length of the screen. It has a charging time long enough to get out of the way, and it's easy to stick an option or two in front of any one piece and get a few hits in during this time. Stick with one section at a time.



After that comes the true end of the stage. This is the high-speed area, which Konami seems to love so much. The only way to get through is to stay in the middle to upper portion of the screen, as gates close and will kill you if you stay too low. I died at the boss before this and had no speedups and almost made it through, but having at least one is a huge advantage. If you die at the boss before this section, hopefully one of the enemies from the fight drops a speedup.



The final boss is a creepy rotating 3-skull devil beast. He taunts you and releases worms from the corners which can give powerups. His primary attack is a spread of purple bullets. It will likely catch you off guard at first, but the gaps are actually pretty wide once you see the attack coming. He will also fire green homing bullets that are much more dangerous as they track for a long time and are quite fast. Without a speedup they are much more difficult to dodge. When the skulls start spinning, he will release a bunch of purple objects all over the screen. They can be shot, but will fire a big red suicide bullet right at you. Don't shoot too many and make small movements and they aren't too hard to avoid. Honestly, for the last boss this guy wasn't nearly as hard for me as the previous boss.

Upon defeat you'll be threatened with a trip to Hell. Rather than having to fight out, you'll be treated to a first-person sequence flying through an organic cave and escaping just as everything explodes. Watch the Vic Viper and Super Cobra fly away victorious yet again as the credits roll. Let them finish, and you can play the second loop. The difficulty is jacked up and the music includes more classic tunes. As stated earlier, the Stage 1 theme from Salamander is re-used in the second loop here.

Salamander 2 takes the old Konami shmup formula and doesn't change it much at all. Nearly everything here is taken from an earlier game. Yet by leaving options on screen to collect after being killed, the game is much less frustrating and more forgiving. I never felt like this was a one- death game over, like early Gradius games. The graphics are beautiful and the worms in particular move in all kinds of cool ways. Worth a play, and I think this one is easy to get into. Just don't expect anything you haven't seen before from Konami.

Overall:







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