Format: Sega Genesis, Arcade, Commodore 64 (possibly the same game. It was released before the arcade version, which is a little odd, but it does seem to be a scrolling shooter, so it could be the same game)
Publisher: NCS (Genesis version)
Year: 1989 (original game) 1990 (Genesis port)
Hellfire is a horizontally scrolling shooter of the truly manic kind. The game is incredibly challenging, like all the best arcade games, but is so addictive you'll find it hard to stop, even after you are blown into smithereens for the umpteenth time.
At first glance, Hellfire is just like any other horizontal scrolling shooter. You're in space, you're shooting enemies, there is absolutely no plot to speak of, just the temptation of the next level and an ever higher score. You start off firing a puny weapon, which then gets upgraded over time until it fires a triple pronged attack which makes mincemeat of most basic enemies. There are numerous pick ups to pick up and enemies to dodge around, followed by screen filling bosses to destroy throughout the six levels. After a while, when collecting the right pick up, you get a little "buddy" which flies around causing damage, and the mandatory one hit shield also makes an appearance.
The thing about Hellfire which makes it stand out from the admittenly enormous crowd (U.N. Squadron, R-Type, and hundreds more) is that as well as scrolling to the right and firing your weapon (whatever it may be) to the right you can select the direction of your fire. As well as the fire button, and the obligatory huge laser beam limited use button, the third button on the Genesis pad switches the firing mode of your spacecraft. At first you're firing pink shots forward, but after pressing B you're firing yellow shots backward. Another press and you're firing green shots both up and down at the same time, and a final press gets you to the last mode, firing blue shots in all four diagonal directions. A last press takes you back to the original pink mode. Cleverly, your ship changes colour so that even when you're not firing you can tell what mode you are in at a glance, and when you switch mode arrows will flash up briefly to pint in the directions that your weapons now fire.
Obviously, there are disadvantages to being able to fire in all these directions - the most powerful (and fast) firing options are the straight ahead or straight behind, because if that wasn't the case people would just use diagonal all the time, because it can, with a little maneouvring, take out enemies behind and in front quite easily. Make no mistakes, this is not a game where you can simply use one of the firing options and stick with it, the way that the enemies are scripted means that you will have to constantly switch between modes. Because of this, the is game probably the most hectic 16-bit game I've played..
Another excellent part of the game is the sound and music. Like many other Genesis games (for example Streets of Rage) it is clear that a large amount of time has been spent coming up with adrenaline pumping tunes to compliment your blasting. While it doesn't top Gyruss' amazing soundtrack (hey, you have to work hard to defeat Bach...) it's definitely one of the catchiest shooter tunes around, and the generic sound effects go with it perfectly.
The graphics of the game are pleasing, and don't slow down the game too much unless there is a lot of enemies on screen. When playing the ROM in Gens, putting on an interpolation filter makes the graphics mighty smooth... The artwork on the enemies is very varied, but usually quite pleasingly weird - for example, the Egypt themed enemies are simply too odd for words.
Overall, Hellfire has to be one of the best horizontal scrolling space shooters I've played, especially on the Genesis. I'd highly recommend picking up a ROM and giving it a try in Gens (my personal favourite) or Kega. The arcade ROM appears to be playable in MAME athough I haven't tried it. I suspect that it will be much the same, probably playing a lot smoother though, and with better graphics and sound. Definitely worth adding to anyone's collection, although if you want an original copy rather than a ROM I suspect the only place to look is eBay, unless you have a really good second hand game shop nearby. While this game isn't original by any stretch of the imagination, borrowing as it does a heap from R-Type etc, what it does it does well. My only problem was that when you are fighting the large boss / mid boss characters, it is often hard to tell if you are actually causing any damage. Apart from that though, this game gets a big thumbs up from me.
Playing the Genesis ROM in Gens.
Cheers to fondue for pointing out that this game needed a writeup.