The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Hellfire (PC Engine)









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Hellfire S (PC Engine - Toaplan/NEC Avenue - 1991)

Several additional elements are present in this enhanced port of the Mega Drive/Genesis game that makes it a worthwhile play in its own right. The key difference lies in the co-op mode that allows two players to battle against opponents simultaneously. This has the dual effect of making the gameplay a little bit easier, while also having a drawback where the screen feels a little bit cluttered. However, its added intensity and ferocity more than compensates for thia in the big picutre. You can still choose to fight alone, through thia approach will take longer and present more difficulties. Additionally, players will find elaborate cinematic cut-scenes. These are surprisingly elaborate and fit the anime style of the game flawlessly. These sequences are featured before the main game and between levels and help to flesh out he storyline effectively. Additionally, Hellfire S features an above-average soundtrack that utilizes its CD-Rom drive to produce an excellent soundtrack that's a noticeable step up from the Mega Drive edition. Aside from these significant additions, the basic premise and structure of Hellfire S hasn't been altered too much, which has advantages and drawbacks.

Toaplan made some interesting choices when it developed Hellfire S on the PC Engine. While it stays true to the standard shoot-'em-up formula for the most part, there are some interesting divergences that keep your interest level high throughout. You begin with a basic mission to defeat all the enemies on each level and then battle it out against a large boss opponent at the end of each stage. The most interesting aspect of the game lies in its power-up system.. You begin with four basic types of shots: forward, backward, verical and diagonal To help make things easier, each weapon has a bright primary color which makes it easy to know which you're using at a glance. While it's a cool system, the lack of variety becomes apparent several levels in as a bit of monotony comes into play. Later levels become increasingly elaborate but the limited arsenal seems to hold the game back a little, but in the end, its not a significant problem and shouldn't keep you from playing through to the later levels.

The most important aspect to Hellfire S' elaborate power-up system is its flexibility. You can cycle through these at will at any point during the game, though only in one direction. This means you need to anticipate and memorize their order. Occassionally, the system backfires and your ship finds itself firing in exactly the wrong direction, which can be frustrating at points. You can switch, but certain sections are best used with one power-up providing a specific aiming direction. It means you need to know when to use them, and at which point they'll be most effective. Its system is fairly unique and gives Hellfire S an interesting layer of strategy many similar games lack. The layout of structures and opponents means you can anitcipate their position ahead of time and can use the matching shot to quickly dispatch your opponents. Aside from its elaborate power-up system, Hellfire S offers a fairly traditional but solidly implemented game. Its basically a scrolling, horizontally-scrolling shooter that unfolds at a typically speedy pace.

As players defeat foes, they'll increase score but more imoortantly release a series of stacked power-ups. These give your ship a series of speed bursts which comes in handy when manuevering around the levels. More imoortantly, there are power-pods that increase the firepower of your basic weapons exponenitally. These rapidly increase in effectiveness, allowing you to quicky clear nearby areas withou much effort. However, your ship is vulnerable to taking fire, a single shot takes you all the way back to the beginning, you lose your accumulated power and speed. This can be frustrating as well, but you can use the plentiful power-ups to rebuild your weaponry quickly. Collecting power-pods is fairly intuitive since they're implented automatically. However, there is a slight pause before they're implemented, which means you'll have to factor that in-between time. Whether this slight hiccup was a feature or a bug isn't immediately clear but you have to adjust for it nonetheless.

Anticipating enemy formations and patterns is fairly straightforward. You can generally gain a pretty good feel for their movements as they happen and most configurations aren't overly complicated. The controls and interface are flawlessly executed which maked playing Hellfire S much easier. Its fairly easy to understand and most players should get the hang of things quickly. It requires a proficiency of skill and minor memorization to succeed in the long run. Manuervering your ship on the screen is effortless for the most part, though a little sluggish early on before you collect the power-ups. Navigating through enemy formations isn't terribly difficult, there's enough space to move around in single player mode, though things tend to get somewhat confusing later on. Shooting and aiming can be done with some precision and the weapons are satisfyingly accurate for the most part. Using the diaganol shots is probably the most interesting mechanic and helps to break up the gameplay in a way that's somewhat refreshing.

From an aesthetic standpont the game delivers a high-degree of polish and technical presentation that's above the norm by PC Engine standards. In-game animation is smooth and robust, one highligh is the constantly spinning gun reticles circling your ship throuhgout which adds an interesting layer to the visuals that helps to enhance its presentation. Hellfire S flows at a consistent frame rate throughout with almost no slowdown evident during the missions. Later stages bring more elaborate layouts and increased numbers of enemies but none of this seems to slow things dpwn. Its overall level of difficulty can be considered slightly harder than average. Certain sections of the game can be difficult to navigate while others are relative cakewalks, and this uneven level of difficulty can be a little frustrating. When you lose a ship deep into the game, it can be annoying. Fortunately you have plentiful power-ups to help you rebuild, without much effort. Hellfire S has some interesting enhancements, with the co-op play adding an interesting aspect of gameplay to the proceedings, giving its mechanics added depth and challenge.

While the CD soundtrack and cut-scenes don't add much to the gameplay itself, the do a fairly good job in enhancing the experiene, adding an interesting backstory to the proceedings that helps to keep things compelling throuhgout. Ther weapon system is one of the surprisingly subtle aspects of this horizontally-scrolling shoot-'em-up that differeniate it from the deluge of similar games on the platform. Four distinct firing patterns seem to be its main draw, and the tricky level layouts that accompany these configurations make for a uniquely challenging title that successfully blends traditional elements alongside innovative elements to prucce a solidly entertaining title.

- Michael Palisano