Hellfire is a genuine attempt to push the rather stagnant card-battle genre forward. While structurally it is very similar to titles such as Zynga’s Ayakashi: Ghost Guild and DeNA’s own Rage of Bahamut, it adds two things that many games in this genre are often sorely lacking: a significant degree of audio-visual polish, and some gameplay that is more involved that repeatedly tapping a “Continue” button and letting the game play itself.
In Hellfire, players are confronted with a series of battles against elemental creatures and must defeat them by “flicking” orbs at them. The various types of orb do different amounts of damage according to the enemy’s elemental affinity — fire orbs do most damage against dark enemies, dark orbs do most damage against earth enemies, earth orbs do most damage against water enemies, and water enemies do most damage against fire enemies. As such, the player must carefully prioritize their on-screen targets to destroy them as quickly as possible while attempting to take as little damage as they can.
Although Hellfire markets itself as an “action” game, it is strictly turn-based in nature. Nothing happens until the player flicks an orb, at which point a counter on all of the on-screen enemies decreases by one. If this counter reaches zero, the enemy attacks, the player takes damage and it then resets. Occasionally players will have to face larger, more powerful “boss” opponents who usually have minions with them. Defeating the boss automatically also defeats the minions.
The card-battle aspect comes into play as the player completes various missions throughout the game’s linear storyline. Sometimes, as in the “story” sequences in card battle games, the player will acquire new cards as a result of successfully completing a level. Players may also summon several cards per day for free, or make use of one of the game’s currencies to summon rare cards. Additional summons may be earned by collecting “ally jewels,” which may be found when randomly running into another player during the battle sequences. There is no apparent means of directly interacting with the other player — they simply show up, deal some random damage to one of the on-screen enemies and the game prompts the player to add them as a friend after the battle is concluded. There is really no reason not to do this, as there does not appear to be a cap on how many allies a player can have at once.
Between battles, players are able to assign their various cards to their magic orbs to make themselves stronger. Cards may also be “reinforced” by fusing them together with other cards or “evolved” by fusing them with matching cards. Both options cause the cards’ respective hit points and attack power to increase accordingly, allowing the player to take on tougher challenges. There is not, however, a player-vs-player option to allow competition between decks as in other card-battle titles.
Hellfire has better quality gameplay than the vast majority of other card-battle titles out there in that it actually involves more than repeatedly tapping the same button until energy runs out, but its theme and its mechanics don’t seem to mesh at all well together. There is no thematic explanation whatsoever of how or why the various cards will power up the player’s magic orbs, or indeed why the player has these magic orbs in the first place. Combat is something of a hit or miss affair — no pun intended — as it’s rather difficult to judge how far away various enemies are and the amount of force a particular “flick” will require to hit them. Since there does not seem to be any real requirement to actually hit the on-screen enemies to deal damage, anyway, this is a mechanic that needs some work.
The game also suffers from the card-battle genre’s perennial problem: not having the data actually stored permanently within the app itself, leading to the game often being ready before the graphics are. Hellfire does at least attempt to disguise this by simply replacing non-loaded graphics with a hand-drawn “question mark” symbol rather than bringing up an obtrusive loading pinwheel, but it still looks rather amateurish to see graphics visibly loading in once a level has already begun.
There’s also relatively little to do in the long term. With no interaction between players, no competitive multiplayer component and gameplay involving little more than flicking orbs at enemies atop various backgrounds, Hellfire will get old fast. While DeNA should be praised for actually attempting to add something new to an extremely stagnant genre, Hellfire doesn’t do enough to drive it forwards and make itself into an interesting game. The end experience may look and sound quite nice, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s simply a rather dull experience.
An admirable attempt to push the stagnant card-battle genre forward, but regrettably still a dull, boring and shallow experience.