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FireShark (Sega Genesis) Review
~by tankMage (January 2016)
Finding the right Genesis game to review first was a long process. Having only ever played a few Sonic the Hedgehog games and Mortal Kombat, I really wasn’t sure where to start. Luckily, I found a shmup called Fire Shark that felt like the right game to play.
As shoot ‘em ups go, this game is very orthodox and does not attempt to improve on the genre’s formula, which is where it’s brilliance lies. Fire Shark is well realized, because of its simplicity and delivers an experience that is immersive, challenging, and fun.
As video game stories go, Fire Shark is pretty vague and generic. Its really just the usual an-unstoppable-threat-is-conquering-the-world-and-only-this-plane/spaceship/helicopter/toaster-can-save-the-day plot that’s so overused it must be an inside joke in the world of shooters. It’s the theme and setting that make this game standout, however. Rather than controlling the usual spaceship, you get a red biplane that comes with a stock of old fashioned looking bombs and a simple spread shot to start. The backgrounds and enemies all have a similar early twentieth century style that really makes the game feel unique, even when compared to titles like 1942.
This game handles beautifully and has some of the best pay control I have ever seen. As for menus, there really aren’t any aside from the options screen.
Music and sound effects
Most of the tunes in this title are catchy and have an awesome classic rock feel. The soundtrack is limited to just a few songs, however, and they all use the same sound fonts, which starts to get old after a while. In terms of sound effects, Fire Shark made good use of the Genesis sound bank and the game has that arcade feel to it as a result.
Many years have passed since I last played a shooter and I found that Fire Shark offered a fair challenge even on easy mode (which is the default difficulty setting). Fair is the operative word when describing this game. It’s very rare for Fire Shark to throw cheap shots like enemies that come from behind. Players have a lot to loose from getting shot down (since it takes twelve power boosts to max out weapon power) but the game does refill your bomb supply and let you keep progress towards the next upgrade even when you have to continue. Some games demand the player’s full attention and Fire Shark drew me into its war torn 16-bit universe. After clearing the last stage I felt like I made an accomplishment as a gamer, which made the game all the more worthwhile. There are also a variety of stages and scenarios that keep the game fresh as well a decent line up of enemies.
As great as Fire Shark may be, it does have some flaws. Most of the bosses tend to be very easy, especially if you have the green laser powerup. This is compounded by the fact that the player doesn’t actually have to destroy the boss to clear the stage, instead you just have to survive. The final boss in particular was disappointing and the game would have been anticlimactic had not the devs thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the last level. Fire Shark can also be ridiculously easy if you manage to upgrade your weapons fully. Spread shot clears the screen in a wide frontal arc, bosses melt under green laser fire, and the red lightning weapon hones in on mobs, obliterating everything on the screen. Being super powerful is fun though….
Fire Shark has really nice arcade style graphics and is visually impressive for a game made in 1990. The color palette sets the mood of the title fittingly; enemy planes, installations, and vehicles all look like they belong in a military and the world itself has a drab, oppressed feel. There are also a lot of nice details. Shoot an enemy plane and it will plummet to the ground rather than popping. Destroyed tanks leave craters. You may also notice the soldiers who appear at the end of each stage doing something comical if you watch closely. The animations do lack a bit in terms of frame rate, but it’s excusable given that there is so much happening on screen. Bosses also tend to look generic and appear uninspired overall.
For me, the pinnacle of any gaming experience is to become truly engrossed in my task. The moment when the controller becomes an extension of myself as I dodge enemies, clear obstacles and charge in head long towards victory or defeat. The tension, exhilaration and frustration I feel when playing a great game all meld into one emotion for me: pure joy. This is probably one of the reasons why people play games and an excellent game, whether it’s the latest Xbox One title or a rusty Atari 2600 cart can invoke this emotion. Fire Shark is one of those games and that’s why it’s the first A I have awarded a game.
If you like shoot ‘em ups, play Fire Shark, you won’t regret it.