Firefly (1988)

Our normal reviewer Rich is currently on holiday. Guest reviewer Chris Martin from the band Coldplay will review this game.

Hi, I’m Chris Martin from Coldplay. I am a big fan of the ZX Spectrum and actually think that many of its games are better than the latest Playstation 2 games. When Rich asked me to review Firefly – a favourite of mine – I leapt at the opportunity. Before I begin though, I want to tell everyone that there are 3 other, actually possibly 4 other people in Coldplay. I can’t remember their names just now, but the point is, that the band isn’t just me, and that some other people also contribute. I also want to let you know, just in passing, that we have a new album coming out soon. It’s called “A Storm of Innocence”. Don’t feel any pressure but please feel free to purchase it at your local music shop or on iTunes. Thank you. Love Chris x

So What is Firefly?

“Here I am being attacked by multiple alien craft. If this was real life it would go against my vegan principles to kill them. But it’s a game… so I murder them brutally while grinning.”

Firefly is a fast, abstract, ultra-slick, multi-directional shoot-em-up that was written by legendary spectrum programmer Joffa Smith. I remember playing Firefly when it was released and it seemed like a kaleidoscope of colour and weirdness all in shoot-em-up form. It was also very confusing but exciting too because it seemed like there was a lot going on in this game. It wasn’t just a shoot-em-up, there was a whole extra element to it. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean. When you start the game you’ll see the map screen below.

“We live in beautiful worlds….”

To complete the game you need to reach the green switch on the far right side of the map. Each space on the map represents an alien world. However you can only move your Firefy past a space once it has been cleared of all alien invaders. When a world has been cleared it will then be replaced by a white circle.

How do I rid the worlds of the alien menace?

“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you…”

Upon entering a world, you’ll find yourself piloting your state-of-the-art Firefly craft which you move through an 8-directional scrolling world. You’ll notice a map screen at the bottom of your display which shows the layout of the world you are in. To clear a sector you have to take out the 4 power generators on each level. These are denoted by rapidly flashing dots on the map. Sometimes the generators will be in hard to reach areas and you’ll need to find a transporter (also marked on the map by a slower flashing dot) to take you there.

Hypnotic Bullets!

Your craft is circled by your complete bullet supply, and they move in hyponotic and beautiful patterns. The bullets aren’t active when circling your craft so unfortunately don’t act as a shield. As you fire them you’ll notice they return to you after use – much like boomerangs.

“It was all yellow…” (Still available on iTunes btw!)


The only genuine power-up is an autofire pickup, which you get from destroying a particular type of alien ship. It’s generally useless – autofiring means you run out of bullets and enemies only need to be hit once anyway – but still worth picking up for a points bonus. You can also pick up fuel cannisters, and energy-restoring drops but the best pickup by far is the energy fish which you can use to restore a big chunk of your energy. (See later in the review)

Three Moments From The Game

1. Destroying a Power Generator

You need to hack into a power generator to make it auto-destruct but before you can do this you must first collect 4 power cores. These are fired out by the generator but at the same time it’s also firing out cold metal death so you need to be careful to avoid it’s missiles. You will also be under attack from multiple flying enemies – who fire bladed weapons at you. Crazy Mo’fos! (I’m enjoying this!)

The square object with the circle in is a power-generator and that blobby shaped object is a power core.

Once inside the generator you’ll still have to take part in a simple mini game which determines whether you destroy it or not.(see below)

2. Punishing Subgames

Whenever you hack into a power generator or want to use a transporter you’ll find yourself playing a reaction-based subgame.

The first game here is the power-generator subgame, the 2nd is the one you’ll play when you enter a transporter.

With the power generator game – you’ll need stop the a rapidly moving cursor on the Thumbs-Up Icon. Fail to do so and you’ll be thrown out with a hefty energy loss. By the 3rd and fourth generator on each level the cursor moves far too fast to react to and you’ll need to aim a step or 2 steps ahead.

The transporter subgame is much harder. You have stop a spinning cursor on the blue squares and avoid the red. One wrong move – it’s very easy to hit a red square by mistake because of the speed the cursor moves! – and you’ll again be thrown out with a heavy energy loss.

99% of the times I died in the game was from failing a subgame. Their difficulty does spoil the game slightly.

3. The Energy Fish

My Firefly craft collects an energy fish, and soon drops of nourishing energy are falling from the ceiling!

The best item in the game and very much needed. Like the autofire pickup you’ll release it by destroying a particular type of enemy. Once collected, for a limited amount of time, all aliens will disappear and energy-replenishing drops will fall from the scenery. Collect as many as you can, or alternatively take advantage of the complete lack of enemies to hack into that final power generator and save the day!

Chris Martin From Coldplay’s Verdict

First impressions are that this is a very slick and fast shoot-em-up. It’s given extra depth given by the fact you have to do some exploration and that you are not just shooting enemies all the time. However 2nd impressions are not so good. You’ll notice some pretty obvious flaws in the game, which are :

– the limited view area means collisions with enemies are often almost unavoidable.
– the subgames are far too punishing – 1 or 2 mistakes and it could be game over.

I failed a subgame here rather than got shot. But the end result is the same – death.

However 3rd Impressions (hmmm I really want to write a song called “Third Impressions Count” or even “Impressions of the Third Kind”. I’m feeling quite creative!) are much better because you’ll find ways to mitigate the difficulty of the subgames. You’ll learn on the 3rd rotation of the transporter game to aim 3 squares ahead of the square you want. Similarly on the thumbs-up/thumbs-down game, when it gets ultra-fast you’ll know to aim for the thumps-up just because the cursor will take 2 further steps and be back there by the time your fingers react.

The subgames will still be hard but now that you have a chance, the game gets very addictive. Don’t play with emulator saves because it ruins it. It also takes some time to learn how to fly the craft with a good degree of skill and when this happens a lot of the viewport problems disappear, and the fun level increases.

What They Said At The Time

“Firefly is one of the best games I’ve played for a long time, though it doesn’t sound like much till you’ve tried it — the graphics are the usual high-quality shoot-’em-up stuff and the gameplay, though original, loses something in verbal description. But there’s addictiveness in oil-tankerfuls; I played Firefly solidly for four hours without wanting a break! Colour is used nicely, and the sprites are very well-designed. Forget the nit-picking; all shoot-’em-uppers should have Firefly.”

MIKE … 94%


So How Good Are You Chris?

Well…I’m not bad. I have cleared 5 worlds and got a score of 504020 without using emulator saves! but I’m Chris Martin from Coldplay! Who are you?

Just joking! I want to make it clear that I think all of us here on planet Earth are equal.

“That was when I ruled the world….” (Almost!)

That’s me: CJM. (I’m not sure what my middle name is but it probably begins with a J)

To Sum Up

A beautifully abstract and very slick strategy shoot-em-up. It initially seems to be spoiled by the difficulty of the annoying subgames and a small view-area. However give it some time and you’ll uncover a very addictive game. I highly recommend this 7/10

Buy My New Album!

My first solo project! I showcase my guitar skills on this album in which I play 20 guitar classics including Voodoo Chile Slight Return (in an upbeat happy style), Smoke on the Water (special melancholic version) and Van Halen’s Eruption (played with a hint of sadness).

Was you being able to plug your new album part of why you agreed to write this review?

Yes, Sorry!


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