While it may not be the most well known arcade game, Satan's
Hollow has developed a cult following over the years. From
its controversial subject matter (Satan and demons) to its
unusual two sided playfield, Satan's Hollow is an interesting
game that wasn't afraid to try new things. Like
many Bally Midway games, CBS Electronics picked up the rights to
create the home versions of Satan's Hollow, but only the C64
version ever made it out the doors. However a complete and
fully playable Atari 8-bit port was eventually leaked from an
unknown source, and it's this port that we will be taking a
closer look at.
With a name like Satan's Hollow, you know you're in for some demonic action and this game does not disappoint. You control a small cannon that must blast squadrons of gargoyles, demons, and devils against a desolate mountain backdrop. Your cannon is also equipped with a shield that you can activate by pulling down on the joystick. This shield only lasts a few seconds (indicated by the shield counter) but quickly recharges when not in use. Every three stages you must face off with a devil moves erratically around the screen and breaths a stream of fire down at your cannon. The devil starts out fairly small but grows larger the longer you wait to shoot him making it more likely you'll finally blast him. The list of characters in the arcade game lists each of the three sizes as a different kind of devil (Lucifer, Old Nick, and Beelzebub) although they all generally look the same except for the size.
Each gargoyle or demon you shoot produces a bridge piece which you must collect and move over to the pit of fire on the right side of the screen. Interestingly this isn't actually a requirement and the levels will proceed if you simply shoot all the creatures on the screen. In fact many players who never read the instructions never get to see the second half of the playfield. If you wait long enough the gargoyles will eventually start swooping down to the bottom of the screen and attempt to steal one of your remaining lives. If this happens you must shoot it before it leaves the screen to get it back (they move pretty slowly so this isn't too difficult).
Once you complete the bridge you can move your cannon over to the second side of the playfield (or not if you don't feel like) and battle Satan himself for a chance to increase your cannon's firepower. Each time you take down the dark lord the number of shots you can fire at once increases up to three. As you may have guessed, taking down Satan is no easy task. Satan is armed with pitchforks (natch) and later fireballs that shoot at you with blinding speed. Once the Red Guy goes down you'll automatically be taken back over to the left side of the playfield to build the bridge again.
Satan's Hollow has a fair number of changes that happen each stage to keep things interesting. The squadrons of demons move in different and more difficult patterns, the pit of fire grows larger and larger requiring more bridge pieces, Satan gains more fireballs, and different types of demons start making appearances. Egg Bombers will throw fiery eggs at you that explode into a swath of flames that must be avoided until it goes out, while red Bridge Bombers will drop bombs that destroy pieces of the bridge you've been carefully constructing. Eventually you'll also start to notice the sky getting darker and darker making it difficult to see the enemy. If you survive long enough the night will turn into a new dawn and the cycle will start anew.
The Atari 8-bit version of Satan's Hollow is pretty decent. The graphics are fair and the game seems to have all the features of the arcade game, however the one place where the 8-bit version really shines is in the gameplay department. Not only does it replicate all the thrills of the arcade version, it's much easier to play. The arcade game was known for being pretty unforgiving at the higher levels, but the Atari 8-bit port seems to smooth out the difficulty curve a bit making it easier to last longer and see the higher levels. This version also allows the player to pick their starting level (from one to nine) allowing them to skip the easier early levels if they so desire.
Satan's Hollow was also advertised as being available for the Atari 5200, but it is believed that no 5200 port was ever created since the 8-bit release was cancelled. It's unknown why CBS chose not to release Satan's Hollow, but it may have been due to the collapsing game market or even possibly the subject matter (although that didn't stop them from advertising it). Whatever the reason, Satan's Hollow is a good port of the arcade game and might actually be more fun to play than the original.