Fire Shark


“Yo… I got this.”


Selleck springs into action!



PUBLISHER: DreamWorks (US), Sega (EU), Toaplan (JP)


GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/90 – (US), 11/02/90 – (JP), 12/91 – (EU)


Toaplan wasn’t the best shoot-em-up developer for the Genesis, but in the console’s early years, they were one of the most prolific. To wit: Fire Shark was their fourth shmup for the console in less than a year! By 1991, the company’s output slowed considerably and they eventually went bankrupt in 1994. For a solid 18 months, however, they padded the Genesis library with copious shooting action.


“Nautical vessels, bow before my Christmas lights!”


While Truxton and Hellfire are ambitious sci-fi extravaganzas, Twin Hawk and, to a lesser extent, Fire Shark are slightly more realistic World War fare. You control a bi-plane known (of course) as the Fire Shark. Your mission: destroy the S Corps, a company so evil, they used a single letter for their name. The dastards!


This oversized plane is a real piece of S Corps.


As the turrets, tanks, cannons, and planes roll out in different patterns, Fire Shark takes them all on singlehandedly. He starts with a standard Wide Shot, a blue bullet spray that reaches far, but doesn’t do a lot of damage. In addition to the Wide Shot, a Shark Beam and Super Fire weapons are also available. The green Shark Beam emits a spiral pattern that is powerful, but doesn’t cover a lot of ground, while the red Super Fire consists of two fire columns that take apart metal and flesh with ease.


Explosions also happen. And why shouldn’t they?!


Power-ups enhance each weapon to the point of ridiculousness. Collect enough floating ‘P’s and your Wide Shot will be a 16-bullet spray that covers the entire screen. The Super Fire will be six tentacles of fire streaming from your plane, four of which rotate back and forth like a demonic tail. The Shark Beam’s spirals do grow larger when upgraded, but it doesn’t have the range to make it worth using. The Beam does show up more often than the others, though, so you’ll use it whether you want to or not.


No plane should ever have a weapon this powerful.


As in Truxton, you have a limited amount of bombs that dole out heavy damage. Speed upgrades are prevalent, as are lightning bolts, which add to your total score at the end of each stage. Once your plane lands, the amount of bombs you have left in your arsenal is multiplied by the total points amassed from the lightning bolts. If you were conservative with your bomb usage, and you collected a lot of lightning bolts, you could get several hundred thousand points, which will lead to about two extra lives.


This tank is your tank! This tank is my tank!


Fire Shark isn’t as difficult as some of Toaplan’s other works, but you’ll still need as many lives as possible to make it through. Prior to stage five, I sincerely wondered if I would beat all ten stages with less than three deaths; the game was that easy. After stage five, Fire Shark humbled me. The enemy patterns grew more devious and unpredictable. Planes and tanks sprayed projectiles with increased frequency and vigor. In short, Fire Shark became the game I expected it to be from the beginning: raw and brutal.


Screw you guys, I’m turning around.


The action in Fire Shark is so relentless and enjoyable, it’s a shame the rest of the game feels so hastily cobbled together. The landscapes consist of static desert, ice, water, and buildings, none of which have any motion or life to them. Aside from the entrancing weapon effects, the graphics are dreary. While there is some excellent synth work in the early level themes, the sharp melodies and grimy beats run together by the end. One neat touch: when you land, soldiers often come out to greet you on the runway. If only there was more detail like this throughout the game.


Now beat the game on Hard! It’ll be worth it, we promise.


To rephrase my opening sentence: Toaplan wasn’t the best shoot-em-up developer for the Genesis, but they were incapable of making bad shoot-em-ups. Fire Shark looks like nothing more than a dry update on Capcom’s beloved (and eternally copied) 19XX series, but the nonstop shooting feels so smooth, and the action is so incredibly satisfying, it’s hard to care. Flame on, you crazy fish.



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0 thoughts on “Fire Shark

  1. I’ve been looking forward to this review – this is one of my favourite MD shmups. I think you nailed it. It all looks pretty drab and generic, but it’s sooo satisfying to play.

  2. Fire Shark is my jam. The graphics are fugly but the gameplay is pretty. It’s just addicting. That funky stage 1 music is permanently etched in my brain.

    The powerups are bullshit. It’s like the game know which ones you want because they’ll tend to play keepaway and float at the top of the screen. Yet those POS greens will float all around the screen 3 or 4 at a time . Treat em like an enemy.

    1. Totally know what you mean about the green power-ups. The game knows green sucks and they just spam you with it, hard. Forgot to talk about how they bounce off of the screen. So obnoxious.

  3. This is one of my favorite shmups on the Genesis, and one of my favorite vertical scrolling shmups in the pre-“Bullet Hell” era period. The difficulty curve is sublime, easing you into it, and then slapping you across the face all of a sudden, as you say, half way through. Despite the simplicity of the composition, I really enjoy the music, and the large explosion sound of your bomb is satisfying. My only gripe with the weapons system, aside from the ubiquity of the green power-ups (especially when you don’t want them!) is that it takes 3 “P” icons to go up a level, and for me, it always seems like I can get 1 power level up, and then just before grabbing the 3rd “P” at the 2nd level, I get smoked. Time and practice improves that, but when I go long stings between play sessions, that can be rather demoralizing. That said, this is a fine shooter that doesn’t nearly get the love it deserves for just being so doggone solid and playable.

    1. Fire Shark’s smoothness is almost poetic. It just flows so well. Even though I didn’t care for the static backgrounds, I’m sure their inclusion helped the game have absolutely zero slowdown.

  4. Played the heck out of this one, still fire (see what I did there?) it up once in a while. The WW2 style makes this one stand out from all of the space shooters, and its very satisfying to blast through. I always dug the little fiery rubble left on the ground after you destroy the land based enemies!

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