This 1983 ad from the back cover of Video Games looks like it was ripped from an illuminated manuscript straight out from the Middle Ages.
That also makes it an interesting piece of arcade lore from the early eighties as not every ad, from way back then all the way up to today, looked quite this good. Or arcade flyer as this was also the cover art used for the ones passed around to arcade owners to sell them on this latest battle against evil. Even two years later, Satan’s Hollow was apparently popular enough to remind people that it was out.
Bally Midway’s marketing blew up the premise of this otherwise straightforward shooter into an epic story, casting players as heroic fighters daring to challenge the “Master of Darkness” within the Hollow. It’s something anyone might find more at home in a CRPG than an arcade game at the time. And it did all that without showing what the actual gameplay was like. The good news is that the actual game wasn’t bad, either.
Satan’s Hollow, released in 1981, was a shooter similar to Taito’s Space Invaders in 1978 or Namco’s Galaga, also in 1981. It shared the idea of the player controlling a weapon that moved left and right along the bottom the screen while using it to take aim at enemies flying above. Blowing away the enemies moved the player to the next level, and so on, with increasing difficulty. It was a basic shooter formula that developers would twist with their own ideas to stand out, such as with Satan’s Hollow.
After dropping in a coin, the game would play a short fanfare of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” before sending you off into future-gothic battle against evil. Basically, the idea was to survive attacking gargoyles in order to challenge Satan in a boss fight. Players also have a shield that they could bring up to defend against bullets or crashing enemies. It burned through energy but regenerated quickly when it wasn’t used allowing players to use it strategically as both a defensive measure and a weapon.
Enemies also tended to move a bit “slower”, at least at first, than in a game such as Galaga, though they made up for this with aggressive tactics and an almost claustrophobic distance between you and them onscreen. They could be seemingly lazy in flying around until you shot one of them down. Then like angry bees, they attempted to turn pound you down into dust in a chaotic spree of violent intentions.
Another twist was that a bridge needed to be built first over a flaming chasm that also ate into how much real estate you could use to avoid attacks from above.
The gargoyles also didn’t fly in rows. Similar to Galaga, they’d fly around in circles, dive in swooping motions, drop bombs, and be joined later on by high-powered “special” monsters like green devils or red gargoyles that were significantly more dangerous. Every time you blew up a gargoyle, a bridge piece would appear on the left hand side of the screen.
Taking your cannon over, you needed to pick up and take the piece over to the flaming chasm where you would slowly build the bridge. New pieces appeared whenever you blew up a gargoyle, so timing your shots so as not to waste them if there was a piece already waiting there also deepened the strategy needed to get the most out of your efforts. At the same time, sticking around to blowing away waves of gargoyles added a flag to Satan’s castle atop the mountain on the right hand side of the screen.
If you took too long, however, a flying Devil’s face would show up spewing down a column of fire that moved along with it killing everything in its way. You could shoot it down, or just get that bridge built quickly enough to avoid tangling with it early on.
Once you’ve built the bridge, “Ride of the Valkyries” would play again as the screen moved past the mountain to the “hidden” right hand side of the area where your boss battle would begin against Satan who is shown as a small, red devil guy flying around and shooting down at you. Killing him also powered you up with an extra cannon attachment before moving back to the left side to do battle against that giant Devil face before starting it all over again with worse enemies. Even Satan would be back with a new trick or two.
And the chasm also widened just a tad leaving you less space to move around in.
Satan’s Hollow was also one of those arcade games that took pride in its appearance with goth-inspired art within its cabinet faceplates. It would also become one of those tabletop arcade setups perfect for leaving pizza slices and grease all over their once-pristine glass tops.
Later, it would be ported to the Commodore 64 though it would be years later before it hit more recent generations with Midway’s Arcade Collection in 2003 for the PS2, and the Xbox with PCs getting a slice of that when the collection arrived in 2004 for Windows.
It’s definitely one of Bally Midway’s best hits, a tough, solid arcade shooter with a number of great features ranging from boss fights and regenerating shields to having to build a bridge. And a penchant for Wagner.