“Yo… I got this.”
Selleck springs into action!
PUBLISHER: DreamWorks (US), Sega (EU), Toaplan (JP)
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.