Phelios (Genesis) review
"Phelios casts you as Apollo, and your mission is to rescue your girl (yawn) from the dreaded despot (snore) who, incidentally, could pass for a hooded, red-eyed version of Cobra Commander. Anyway, Typhonís got your fair lady tied up (that kinky bastard - why didnít you think of that?) and apparently when she got a glimpse of what he was dating before (Medusa), Artemis turned to stone. Right then."
Princess Artemis is seized by Typhon while she rode your winged horse, Pegasus. ''Pegasus, what are you good for? This is my woman youíre talking about. You donít justÖ let her out of your sight!'' You berate the poor animal and he snorts his indifference.
Phelios casts you as Apollo, and your mission is to rescue your girl (yawn) from the dreaded despot (snore) who, incidentally, could pass for a hooded, red-eyed version of Cobra Commander. Anyway, Typhonís got your fair lady tied up (that kinky bastard - why didnít you think of that?) and apparently when she got a glimpse of what he was dating before (Medusa), Artemis turned to stone. Right then.
Your Artemis is a cute blonde who must have been on the way to the club when she was abducted, because her party dress shows off some substantial cleavage. Ah, so you are interested in this mission after all! Even if itís a vertically-scrolling shooter mission from the folks at Namco, and not the newest 3D action horror? Ok then, read on.
You ride a flying horse. His wings flap gracefully, his legs work, his tail swings. Take three hits and youíre dead. There are no shields to be had, but occasionally youíll find a life icon that will partially restore your vitality meter. You fire with your sword, tapping it repeatedly for rapid - but feeble - blasts. More often youíll need to charge your shots for them to do decent damage. To do this, youíll hold down the fire button and watch your sword meter on the right hand side of the screen rise. A fully charged blast will kill any enemy save bosses, whereas your normal shot will really only have success against the smaller flying enemies - you know, the standard shooter weakling prototype, they come in waves.
As always, flying power ups carriers can be shot down to reveal options (in this case, blue-white diamonds that stay alongside you and fire as you fire), and speed ups (self-explanatory, I should think). After getting two options and a few speed ups, youíre fully powered up. Yep, thatís it. Additional weaponry like the Beam (a sweeping half moon), the Across (a ricocheting onslaught of ďVĒs) and the Homing (again, self explanatory) present themselves for the claiming at various points in the game. Unfortunately, they donít last long at all, and their purpose seems only to be to help you out at these same specific points for a minute or so. So most of the time youíll be charging and shooting your main gun, your two options augmenting your firepower unspectacularly from your hip. The only major gripes I have with the set up is that variety is sorely lacking, and pounding the fire button is a bit tiring (no rapid fire joystick will help you now!). All in all, itís a mundane weapon system, but I suppose it does the jobócertainly nothing more.
Between levels or chapters (there are seven of those), Artemis implores you to rescue her before the wall to her tomb is sealed up, Poe-style. She actually talks, and you can actually understand what sheís saying (though having the words on the screen as well might be helping more than I realize). Itís a nice touch, and if nothing more, it gives you something to poke fun at, as the acting becomes worse and worse with every cut scene.
The rescue mission begins with brown birds and advancing skeletons playing lead off for the sinister horsemen whose horses, like your own, have wings. But thereís only one Pegasus, and youíre riding him, so let these cheap imitations have it. Youíll get a chance to procure the Beam weapon here, so you can cut a swath through the bats and dragons that clutter the sky as it scrolls diagonally forward and to the left. The effect is nice, and the RPG-ish music seems fitting. Watch Apollo and Pegasus scale down (very jerkily) and enter Medusaís lair. Her eyes seek you out with beams of sentience. When you think of your dear princessÖ and this is the EX-girlfriendÖ! You know what has to be done.
Things get horribly dark and depressing in a hurry for level two. Green robed wizards replace the skeletons as the infantry. Ugly imps and statues that come alive (well, sort of) join them. The best addition though, are the gladiators that come out onto high ledges and can only be killed by knocking them off. Enter the clichťd shooter 'circle of enemies' a little later on and survive to endure more horrid scaling. Youíre transported to even more dismal depths to do battle with all manner of rock wall-hugging creatures. There are some really garish hues at work here, so look out. Use the Across weapon to clear your way. Wine-coloured worms will burst at their seams to reveal their true form: flying insect-like things (Cyber Core for the Turbografx suddenly springs to mind). The three-headed boss rests in a bed of snakes - see that it just rests.
One thing I love that seems to appear in all console vertical shooters are the steel girders hanging mysteriously in space. They seem to suggest your presence in a giant space station either in the making, or in decline. Space Megaforce probably did it best, but Phelios doesnít do too badly with the motif either. Happily, the girders are here, and youíre out of the darkness and into the sunlit azure sky once again. Unfortunately though, red dragons and homing, chasing, glowing skulls also saw how fine a day it was, and decided to come out to play. One of the most intense parts in the game is here (this level is arguably the high point of the game).
Grifton Knights (basically they represent a colour swapped version of Apollo and Pegasus) come from behind you. As you navigate through the area, their relentless presence will either hurt you directly, or else indirectly - as you may crash into the staggered wall layout trying to avoid them. The trick is to sway back and forth and have them crashing trying to keep up (itís just like shaking off heat seeking missiles in G.I. Joe!). Itís one exciting sequence and itís just in time. Things were getting decidedly dull and you were ready to fall asleep.
Humorously, the screen will flash the words: SIREN IS A DREADFUL WITCH as you approach the boss encounter. She looks like a belly dancer with wings at first, but then... sheís just an ugly thing with wings. Beat it and get a close up of your girlís face (God, I didnít see how that read until now, honest). Here, Artemis sounds more like the adults from Charlie Brown than a pretty girl, but hey, now youíve got something to laugh at to break the tension. Or monotony. Ahem. (Strangely enough, with me it was both.)
You knew this one was coming. There always has to be a fire level, doesnít there? Be forewarned that this is no Thunder Force III, or even Lifeforce. The sea of flames below Apollo and steed looks like a flashing blood-red corduroy pattern. Not good. Once again youíre beset by dragons and skulls. Admittedly, slaying a dragon produces a rather nice effect; his skeleton will crumble into the fire causing a red glow to outline his lifeless remains like so much chalk on pavement. Giant flies and firebirds pester you underneath arced bridges before you reach dry land again. Horrible statues spit at you and the skulls begin their annoying onslaught again in earnest. When you meet up with Antaeus you wonít believe your eyes. Why, does it look that good?
NO. Thatís just it. It looks positively 8-bit. A flat black screen is bordered on the left and right by reddish-white flames that flicker in such a way as to suggest that only two frames of animation were used. At least the fire demon himself looks adequate (heís no Walyer, letís not kid ourselves) and he provides a decent challenge. He summons hands to make runs at you again and again and youíll need to shoot them as they come (lots of extra men can be earned in this way). Amazingly, each hand is animated closely, depicting the Ďcome hitherí hand sign. But you wonít of course, and you shouldnít touch the sides either (youíre the doctor, collecting all your pay! OPERATION!).
The kitsch prize for cut scenes goes to the one after your trial by flames. Artemis pleads: STRIKE THEM APOLLO, PLEASE! just as she reveals that her breasts have been partially exposed. From a risquť party dress to a blue strapless bra. Strike them please? My goodness. What follows is a thunderous sound of unknown origin, then a scream. Chapter five: Icebound Soul. The intensity waxes greater! In all seriousness though, things just got hard in a hurry in this level. Never mind the small fry running undulating patterns over the ice, or even the ledge walkers who now move faster and chuck spears.
Enter Giga and Mega. They are spiked balls, and the platforms are set up like a maze so that the massive dropping balls fill pathways completely and threaten to crush you. The black ones are bad enough - shooting them with a charged blast is the only way to get rid of them short of letting them roll on through and staying out of their way. But the red ones are trouble. If the red ones collide with anything - be it another red ball, a black one, or your shots - it will send fragments in all directions. Bloody hell indeed! This stage has you working it out like Beyonce. This music is somberÖ respectful even. THE GAME KNOWS YOUíRE GOING TO DIE. Learn the patterns by all means, to have half a chance. Scylla is another three-headed entity (remember the Quintessons?) in a bubble, surrounded by a ring of heads that circle her at speed, their orbit growing and shrinking as you try to come to grips with being in the midst of it all. Figure a way into her inner circle and avoid impaling chunks to do her in.
Next you find Artemis yelling TYPHON IS TERRIBLE! At this, you feel a hint of pride yank at you at the incompetence of her new lover. Wait. Maybe she meant something else. Whatever the case, it doesnít matter. What matters is that sheís now revealing her panties to you and itís time to unleash your sword. Chapter six is special for many reasons. The diagonally rushing waters welling up around the bright, sun-baked island platforms make for a pleasurable visual experience for the first time since chapter three. The backdrop brings to mind areas in Soulblazer and Dragon Spirit. The enemies move much faster now, but the main threat doesnít move much at all. It seems we've got ourselves some Little Green Men.
Aliens or not, these guys are nasty. They heave massive boulders at you from their small platforms and youíve got to push them in the water the moment you see them or else the screen will be thick with rocks and youíll be dead. Get by this tough test and more ugly graphics will show their ass ahead. A black backdrop (again) that looks like blue-green patches (imagine raw sewage) have been burned out with turpentine. The boss, Cerberus, is a repugnant three-headed (the three-headed thing is a recurring theme in Phelios if you havenít noticed) monster, whose heads also serve as lunging claws. Behead him thrice and you think youíre done but youíre not. Lasers, horns and Cyclops things all want you dead in a scene that would be at home in a level from Ghouls 'n Ghosts.
Finally, the time comes to assemble the Light Sword from the seven scattered icons that spell itís name: PHELIOS. Gathering the pieces is easy enough - because you must have the sword to beat Typhon. Phelios looks like a bird, wings fully stretched, full of blue light (very Soulblazer). Use its light to wither away Typhonís darkness once and for all.
In the end youíve got to cut Phelios a lot of slack. Itís a first generation Genesis game and one of the systemís earliest shooters. It has good balance going for it, and thatís important. Every time you die, youíll be given a chance right away to power up again. It has a few gameplay highlights too: the spiked ball bit, dealing with the rock throwers, and of course, the chase scene early on. But even so, thereís just no escaping it. There arenít enough highlights. Everything is so pedestrian, the game screams a 5/10 score.
And sure, we might make do with simple graphics, but Phelios looks garish, dull, and often downright ugly. It sounds depressing most of the time, and the graphics certainly concur. Itís always nice to have a gimmick or a unique theme in a simplistic genre like the shoot-em-up, and Phelios certainly has an inventive premise behind it. In that way itís a lot like Cyber Core, though not as colourful or as challenging or as fun (insects beat skulls, skeletons and horsemen any day of the week). So Namcoís game has its premise, balance and great difficulty curve going for it - you may well clear it on your first day (I did), but it wasnít easy, and even in replaying it, it will retain that decent challenge. Phelios is not horrible, itís just unfortunate that a strong effort was made with the concept, but the same canít be said for the execution, which is lacking, like untreated wood.
If you pick this up, it's only because it's dirt cheap, and you're a shooter fan, and the kind of gamer who wants to hear a scantily clad hand-drawn babe ultimately cry out:
YOU HAVE COME!
Priceless for kitsch shooter collectors. Everyone else, move on, there's nothing here to see...
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)
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