Saturday, 17 May 2014

Hellfire - Sega Mega Drive - 1990

Hellfire is another side scrolling shooter for the Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis if you live in North America).  It was released in 1990 and is a conversion of a 1989 Toaplan coin-op.  I’d never heard of either game before but by all accounts the console version is better, boasting a number of improvements over the arcade original.  An initial glance at the screenshots doesn’t do the game any favours with a rather large and unattractive spaceship taking up a large amount of the screen.

Hellfire is set in 2998 and mankind has been busy colonising other solar systems.  However a mysterious force known as the Black Nebula has been engulfing other stars and has now appeared on the latest colony’s doorstep.  A robotic dictator called Super Mech is the controlling force behind the Black Nebula.  As usual the humans can only muster up one spacecraft with which to take on Super Mech’s armada.  You are cast as Captain Lancer, pilot of the snappily named CNCS1 armed with the most potent weapon available – Hellfire.

The game is played out over 6 horizontally scrolling stages, each containing at least one minor boss and concluding in a tougher end-of-level boss.  The play area is just over one screen in height so it also scrolls slightly in the vertical plane.
The red sphere is the weak spot on the bosses.  This one circles the centre when hit and has to be shot at from all four directions.

The main feature that sets Hellfire apart from its contemporaries is the unique weapon system.  Pressing the B button cycles though four laser configurations, each represented by a different colour.  The laser can be set to fire forwards, rearwards, vertically or diagonally. 

One of the challenges is working out which configuration works best in a particular situation as you will always have vulnerable spots.  The laser can be upgraded several times by collecting [P] icons which are dropped by certain enemies.  Other lettered icons include [S] which speeds up your ship and [B] which awards bonus points.  Unlike the arcade version, collecting a sequence of [B] icons increases the bonus points awarded, up to a maximum of 10,000.

Other collectable items include a shield and a distracting, autonomous drone that damages enemies and can absorb their bullets.

The final weapon is the titular Hellfire laser.  This is a limited shot ‘smart bomb’ type weapon that packs a big punch and clears the screen of enemy bullets.  Again, more shots are occasionally dropped by enemies.  Strangely, the Hellfire laser is absent in the original arcade game.
Unleashing the Hellfire laser on the Egyptian themed section of stage 2

According to Wikipedia, Mega magazine placed Hellfire at number 4 in their Top Mega Drive Games Of All Time and it’s easy to see why.  It’s an extremely slick and addictive game boasting great graphics and sound.  Your ship looks rather large and cumbersome but didn’t cause me too many issues.  However, cycling through the weapon system trying to find the right configuration cost me more than a few lives.  Losing a life in itself is a problem as you are stripped of all upgrades and sent back to a previous checkpoint essentially making Hellfire a one life game.  Unless you die near the beginning of the game it is very difficult to get up to speed again.  There is no denying it is a very challenging game, yet one that rewards plenty of practice.

Example gameplay...

I would normally compare different versions of the same game towards the top of the entry but due to the number of differences I thought I would add a short description of the PC Engine version here.  IMO the Mega Drive version is better so this won’t get a full entry on my blog but I thought someone might appreciate it…

The 1991 PC Engine CD-ROM² conversion of Toaplan’s arcade game has been renamed Hellfire S and is subtitled The Another Story (sic).  Personally, I prefer the Mega Drive version as Hellfire S is tougher than an already very difficult game.

The first noticeable difference is the animated attract screen and intro aided by the extra storage capacity of the CD ROM.  The game was only released in Japan, so a lot of it is lost on me. The protagonist has been changed from the male Captain Lancer to the female Karou.  This has no effect on the plot and just seems a flimsy excuse to show some cartoon flesh.

Also shown in the intro are two CNCS1 spacecraft.  The PC Engine is a more faithful conversion in this respect as two players can play simultaneously.

Not having played the arcade version of Hellfire, I can’t tell how accurately the graphics are replicated in Hellfire S but they are certainly downgraded from the Mega Drive.  Although the level layouts are the same, most of the backgrounds and sprites have been changed.  Also the ships don’t switch colour when the laser configuration is changed – Player 1 always has a red ship and Player 2 a blue one.

The sound is much better on the PC Engine.  I suspect this is due to the soundtrack streaming from the CD ROM.

Finally, like the arcade game, the Hellfire laser is conspicuous by its absence.

I suspect Hellfire S may be the most accurate conversion of the arcade game, but  that doesn’t necessarily make it better.  As I said earlier, Hellfire on the Mega Drive is widely considered superior to the game it is based on.  A better-than-arcade conversion.


  1. So is Hellfire S really harder than the Mega Drive port?
    Interesting, I need to check that!

    1. I certainly found it so. I played it after Mega Drive version and couldn't get as far into the game.