Salamander, to the uninitiated, was (and probably still is) one of the hottest arcade hits of the past couple of years. It was the follow up to that wicked coin-op - Nemesis, also converted into glorious Spectrovision by owners Konami.
Salamander, the coin-op, stood out because of its snazzy graphics, mega-music, and a wonderful simultaneous double player option. The action was fast, fluid and frantic. Truly state of the art arcade fare.
Now we turn to the Spectrum version, and oh boy what a total disaster. Take away the original's fabby graphics. Ignore the musical qualities, convert it into a one player (at a time) game, and don't forget to reduce the rip-snorting action to a pitiful snail's pace. Add a dash of flicker with a small helping of colour clash. Stir once, then throw out with the rubbish! It's that dreadful.
This version (I am sure the other versions will be better) is about as lively as me on a dull Sunday morning. As cold-blooded as the reptile it takes its name from.
If you want to know, the action revolves around the liberating of deep space from evil hordes. Ho hum. It is really another version of the classic 'Defender/ Scramble' genre. Nemesis tarted up in fact! It plays better than the Speccy version of Nemesis, but that's not saying much. Most things play better than that!
If you want a tacky (but damn hard) shoot 'em up then get this. But if you are looking for the real Salamander - forget it chums.
Interesting fact: most salamanders are less than six inches in length except the giant salamander from Japan which reaches three feet from tip to tail. Another interesting fact: the despotic Salamander rules an evil galaxy beyond infinity, among Organic Monsters of desctuction, Nuclear Spiders, infernos burning like raging seas in torment, (Ever seen a sea bu? I ain't). Caverns of Despair and Demons beyond the dimensions of our minds (very poetic, I'm sure). Not bad for a small slimy newt-like creature, is it?
Anyway, the powers that be have decided that the Salamander must die. No reasons given of course: ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and die (and many times too, I can tell you). To help turn the monsters, into radioactive goo, the aforementioned powers have doled out weedy ships, armed with one-shot-at-a-time cannons and given you the job of flying them; though why they just couldn't use a couple of H-bombs is beyond me. What all this 'atmospheric plot' stuff comes down to is a straight-forward (by today's standards any rate) horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up and a pretty damn good one at that.
The game is split into several levels separated by huge mega-nasties, which probably need several hits to eradicate (I don't actually know; I've never met one yet). These levels are further separated onto different landscapes, which, were told in the instructions, require different tactics to negotiate. This doesn't seem to be strictly true: just dodge and blast and you can get past anything near enough.
The first level starts off with a few formations of cannon-fodder but soon progresses to a dark tunnel full of growing arms, then caverns full of wobbly things which spit white blobs at you, and then a cavern full of huge gnashing teeth, and then... er, well, I've never got past those teeth, I'm afraid; I keep getting chomped. (Ouch!)
As usual these days, the alien vermin don't have it all their own way. You can collect all sorts of extra goodies. Wap 'em on to yer ship with a bit of double-sided sticky tape and you can kill the scum with missiles, lazer beams, speed-up thrusters, a couple of drone weapon pods and some techno-gadget called an Extra. Pretty good, eh? Well not quite: you see as you grab extra weapons. the aliens chuck more stuff at you! There's a real sadistic designer behind this game, I can tell you.
But it's little touches like that which make Salamander so utterly addictive. Even though I've been stuck at the 'teeth' bit for the last three hours, I've been sneaking extra goes while writing this review, absolutely sure that I can do it with one more try. The scrolling is smooth and fast, and when the action hots up your adrenalin really starts flowing. If I play it too much, I'll probably get an ulcer.
It's also very playable, well presented and blimin' good fun, and although it may have striking (bap!) similarities with a squillion and three other scrolling-blasting-add-on-weapons games, it stands out from the rest with good programming and great game design. And its a must for Nemesis fans, who must have been disappointed with the first Speccy conversion. Go out and buy it, you won't be dissappointed. Take it from a person who doesn't ordinarily like shoot em ups - me!
STOP PRESS: I've just got past the teeth... I'm approaching a huge while wall and... I've crashed. Rats!
If you were paying attention, you may remember Jonathan's small quibble a while back about Nemesis being just too plum hard for its own good. And I must admit, I'm having similar problems with the follow-up. Salamander - I've been playing the thing for hours and still haven't managed to complete Level One. Ahem. And I even got someone who is good at playing games to try as well, and he couldn't do it either.
It's much in the same vein as Nemesis (your averagely average horizontally-scrolling blasting-add-on-weapons jobby) and equally hard, although luckily this one is miles better (if you remember, its predecessor wasn't actually all that good). For example, there are loads of different aliens, spooky cavern things to fly through with these huge hand jobbies which come out and grab you, and piles more besides. The instructions also promise nuclear spiders, organic monsters and demons beyond the dimensions of our minds. Berlimey! And the end-of-level monster'll probably be a complete bummer to complete if the difficulty level of the rest of the game is anything to go by.
It's good, but a bit of a stiffy. (I beg your pardon? Ed)
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