If there’s any type of retro gamer that has to have a PC Engine, the shoot-’em-up fanatic is that type. The system is well-known for its brilliant blasters, from Hudson’s Star Soldier series to Namco’s Galaga ’88, and once the CD system is factored in you can get even more in.
One of the earliest shooters I got for my system was Konami’s Salamander, a Gradius spin-off which simplifies the power-up system and adds vertically-scrolling levels into the mix. Eschewing the straight space theme of its predecessor, Salamander’s look is different straight from the off, with enormous teeth and pulsating growths littering the organic first stage, before progressing to fire themes and the like. It’s a pretty sweet-looking game, all told.
Instead of collecting tokens to spend on power-ups, Salamander sees you picking up icons just like any other shoot-’em-up. While it removes a little of the trademark Gradius character, it does do a little bit to alleviate the problem of losing all your power-ups upon death – you can immediately grab Option drones and missiles, rather than having to save for them. The orientation-switching doesn’t actually add a lot to the game if we’re being honest, but it does break up the pace a little. We prefer the horizontally-scrolling stages over the vertical ones, but that might just be us.
All in all, Salamander is a good shooter for any PC Engine owner to take a look at. While it’s no longer the best home version of the game available, it’ll certainly fit into most collections quite nicely.