This week, we take a look at a quality CD-based shooter for the Japanese PC Engine that (yet again) could have come to the US, but never did: Hellfire S: The Another Story. It originated as Hellfire, a coin-op arcade game by Toaplan, and did make it to the Sega Genesis via Seismic Software as Hellfire, but this enhanced version converted by NEC Avenue never turned up on the TurboGrafx-16.
The game runs on the PC Engine's first-generation CD-ROM system, and memory limitations make the backgrounds and enemies rather repetitive within levels. Some of the additional space provided by the CD format supports animated intermissions, featuring two comely spaceship pilots in PG-rated deshabille:
But this isn't Steam Hearts -- they're all business as the action gets underway:
There's an extensive animated intro, and there seem to be very brief intermissions between levels, though I only managed to get past the first boss, so that's all I've seen myself. All the animations are fully-voiced, with limited sprite animation in the classic PC Engine style. The CD remix of the arcade soundtrack is nicely handled, and each track runs long enough that there's no obvious looping or restarting during a level.
The game itself is a traditional side-scrolling space shooter, with colorful graphics and co-op support for two players. It's not an easy game -- the action gets intense quickly and requires a degree of memorization and strategy. The weapons system can be operated in four different firing configurations -- straight forward, straight back, up and down, and the four diagonals. Switching among these modes is key to making it through some of the more challenging sections, as enemies attack from all directions and are often well-shielded by nooks and crannies. It took me quite a while to get past the first boss:
... only to learn it was just a sub-boss, and the real level boss was waiting a bit farther down the channel:
Having put the first level's mechanical horrors behind us, we somehow find ourselves in ancient Egypt, where flying armed mechanical Tut-heads continue the onslaught:
On my best run, I had five lives on hand as I entered the second level, but they were exhausted in very short order as soon as I got in trouble. This is one of those shooters where losing your power-ups makes it very difficult to recover, so I declared myself satisfied with my progress for the moment.
Hellfire S: The Another Story is a solid PC Engine title, on a platform that hosted more than its share of quality shooters. Bringing it to the US would have required some investment in translation and voice acting, and NEC/Turbo Technologies were wise to invest in Lords of Thunder and Gates of Thunder instead, which ran on the Super CD-ROM technology and were more sophisticated. But this would have been a worthy addition to the Turbo CD's generally weak launch lineup.
For once, this is an import game I can wholeheartedly recommend. It's fast-paced, challenging and a classic old-school shooter. You may be able to find it for purchase at this affiliate link.