Vulcan Venture / Gradius II
Depending on how you
view Salamander, Vulcan Venture is either the second or
third game in the Nemesis / Gradius series (in fact, if
you include Lifeforce, it could be the fourth or fifth).
The fact that the Japanese version is called Gradius II
seems to indicate that the Salamander games are somehow
not part of the main Gradius sequence. This seems odd, as
Vulcan Venture includes elements from both Salamander and
Lifeforce. It's a bit like George Lucas changing the
title of 'Return of the Jedi' to 'Star Wars 2'.
The controls are the same as Nemesis. A joystick moves your ship, the first fire button shoots your guns whilst the the second button releases your missiles. The third button is used to choose your power-ups.
Vulcan Venture retains the power meter from Nemesis, but now you can choose between four different varieties with differing Missile, Double and Laser weaponry. There are also two types of shield to choose between. Speedup and Multiple are the same as in Nemesis.
Option 1: Nemesis
Option 2: Mega-Destruction
Option 3: The Third Way
Option 4: Salamander
So, which option is best? I don't think we ever came to a definitive answer, although the fourth option was often preferred due to the 2-way missiles. I always liked using option 3, just because I liked the photon torpedoes. The first option was probably the one we used least, although I'm sure it had its fans. Konami should probably be congratulated on balancing the weapons so well.
The two shields available are Shield (identical to the one from Nemesis) and Force Field. Force Field gives you all-over protection, but only lasts for three hits. You should always choose Force Field.
Vulcan Venture and Gradius II differ only slightly. The main difference is the lack of a 'continue' feature in Gradius II. Also, Multiple is referred to as 'Option' and Pulse as 'Ripple'. MAME also supports two other ROM sets of Gradius II, but it is unclear exactly how they differ.
MAME and Sparcade emulate both games. As usual, the one that is best for you depends on your circumstances - Sparcade for speed, MAME for compatability.