Sunday 11 August 2013

Salamander - Sharp X68000 - 1988

Level 4 has a lot of enemies from the first level in Gradius (including the volcanoes).

Salamander is another cracking coin-op conversion for the Sharp X68000 computer.  The arcade version of Salamander was released in 1986 as a spin off of Gradius.  Gradius is one of my favourite shoot 'em up franchises, so comes as no surprise to see this game on my list.

Once again you take control of your dependable Vic Viper in single player mode.  There is a two player co-operative mode where the second player takes control of a ship called the Lord British.   I'm not 100% certain but I believe the ultimate goal of the game is to fight your way to and destroy the eponymous Salamander which, judging by the striking artwork, is some kind of giant snake.

Salamander was also released in 1988 for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum all of which had levels and/or features removed (such as two-player mode).  The closest rival at the time was the NES version, renamed as Life Force in the US and Life Force Salamander in Europe.  It retained the two-player mode but differed by having a Gradius-style power-up meter. Nevertheless, it couldn't hope to match the sound or graphics of the mighty X68000.  A conversion for the PC Engine followed three years later in 1991 which I will review when (if) I get there.

Life Force on the NES (left) is better than most conversions but can't compete against Salamander on the Sharp (right).

Rather than picking up pods and selecting a power-up from a meter as in Gradius, you have to collect icons representing each power-up.   These comprise Speed Up, Missile, Laser, Ripple Laser, Force Field and Multiple.  Personally, I prefer the former method which allows for more customisation of your spacecraft.

Even the attract screen is present.

The major departure from Gradius is that Salamander has alternate vertical and horizontal scrolling levels.  The vertical scrolling sections are more frantic with increased numbers of enemies, bullets and objects to avoid.

The vertically scrolling stages tend to get busy.
One thing I am glad of is that when you lose a life you continue from where you died rather than at the beginning of the stage.  You will lose all your power-ups but with quick reflexes you can gather up any Multiples you were carrying.

I haven't played the original coin-op for many years, but if this game is anything like the X68K conversion of Gradius it will be hard to tell apart.  The sound effects and music are good - including some clear speech (remember this is 25 years old).  The controls are responsive and the graphics are well drawn and smooth with some nods to Gradius.  Salamander is an excellent conversion of an excellent arcade game.

This is similar to a level in Gradius 2.  Normally the flares come towards you giving a fraction of a second  warning.
A couple of the bosses.  Once you work out a weakness in their movement pattern they go down quickly.


  1. Good article! I'm really curious about the conversion for the PC Engine, shmups usually do great in that platform. :-)
    Keep up the good work!

    Miguel C.

  2. I've heard good things about the PC Engine arcade conversions but it's the X68k that has really blown me away so far. The only game I've played back to back on both systems is Dragon Spirit (which didn't make it to the blog). I preferred the PC Engine version, but after loading it up on MAME, was amazed at how close the Sharp machine was to the coin-op. Same with Space Harrier - not much game in there but graphically very close to the arcade original. This was a phenomenally powerful computer for 1988, especially considering it used the same CPU as the the Atari ST I had at the time.

    1. "This was a phenomenally powerful computer for 1988, especially considering it used the same CPU as the the Atari ST I had at the time."

      I'm a newcomer to your blog and very much like what I see here. I agree with you 100% about the Sharp X68K: that's a machine that I regret I could never purchase/import because it was way out of my budget. When other people were gushing over the Amiga and ST, I knew this was the true king. If I'd owned one of those, I'd still be using it now. The Mega Drive, Mac, Amiga, ST etc used the same CPU but the X68k possessed magnificent hardware that blew them all away.