Really more of a heck fire, if you ask me.
Then again, this warped US cover does play hell on my eyes. Hellfire, it is!
PUBLISHER: Masaya (JP), Seismic (US), Sega (EU)
RELEASE DATE: 09/28/90 – (JP), 11/90 – (US), 05/92 – (EU)
Just when I was beginning to grow weary of the deluge of shoot-em-ups on the Mega Drive, along comes Hellfire to reignite my love for the genre. Toaplan’s first attempt at a horizontal shoot-em-up doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the game’s gimmick – a four-way directional weapon – adds the right amount of strategy to otherwise standard bang-bang proceedings.
Here, have all of my love!
You play Lancer, commander of the ship CNCS1, and your mission is to drive back the Black Nebula and Super Mech forces single-handedly. The CNCS1 can shoot in four directions – forward, backward, 2- directional up-and-down, and 4-directional diagonal, respectively – which can be rotated through by pressing ‘B’ and fired by pressing ‘A.’ Pressing ‘C’ will unleash a Hellfire attack that, despite the name, never does as much damage as you would hope.
Oh, how I wish this was just a friendly game of alien pool.
Hellfire does not take your ship’s abilities lightly. From the first level on, your thumb will mash the ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons in unison, as enemies attack you from every direction. The key to survival is both rotating through your directional weapons quickly and powering them up as you move along. Your weaponry can be upgraded several times from single shots to twin and triple lasers. You can also acquire a Seeker, which will hover around your vicinity and destroy incoming enemies. Icons that provide speed boost, bonus points, extra lives, and a shield that gives your ship an extra hit point are also worth picking up.
Rise and, uh… please don’t be pissed.
There will come a time – or perhaps several times – in Hellfire when enemies merge towards you from every direction. Rather than shooting them down with gusto and grace, you’ll grow flustered and cycle to a weapon that shoots in the wrong direction. In this scenario, you will be taken out for your efforts. And like most shoot-em-ups, when you die in Hellfire, you lose all your power-ups. Thankfully, however, power-ups are plentifully dispersed throughout each stage, so starting from a checkpoint isn’t as intimidating as it could be.
“And so, a swarm of demonic seahorses hurtled towards our hero. He was never seen again.”
Hellfire‘s stage layouts and enemy/boss design are not far removed from generic shoot-em-up fare, but the game at least had moments that surprised me. The Egyptian hieroglyphs that suddenly came to life in the Desert stage were comical, almost Gradius-esque. When the volcano springs up from under the water and spews evil seahorses in the Forest stage, it’s impossible not to be taken aback. And in the Factory stage, the narrow corridors that require tight maneuvering while destroying turrets are not to be taken lightly.
I question how Easy this actually is, Toaplan.
If you’re going to tackle Hellfire for the first time, head to the Options Menu and change some things. Increase your lives from 3 to 4, and turn Rapid Fire on so you don’t injure your thumbs. Indulge in the Sound Test too. Hellfire has an outstanding soundtrack that takes full advantage of the Genesynths. The default difficulty is Easy, which seems insulting, until you realize you can only pick between Easy and Hard. Choose Easy and be quick about it. If you leave the cursor on Hard for too long, a third difficulty will emerge called ‘Yea Right.’ Best not to call the game’s bluff.
Immortan Joe 3099
Once you make your way through Hellfire three times without using all lives and continues, you’ll be rewarded with the game’s true ending. I tend not to encourage such masochism, but this game is one of the rare shoot-em-ups I would play through at least twice in one sitting. Cycling through directional weapons to destroy enemies in every corner and cranny is one of the best features I’ve ever seen in any shoot-em-up, and it more than makes up for the game’s generic aesthetic. Hellfire is unrelenting action, all-or-nothing immersion, and one of the best shoot-em-ups on the Genesis.
Got to see the next graphic ending!