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Phelios (Genesis) artwork

Phelios (Genesis) review

"Persevere and you’ll witness the standard ‘cave with intestines wiggling in the background’ level, a sky palace where knights flanking you from the rear try to drive lances up your butt, and even a zone where you have to shoot rolling blocks to prevent them from crashing into others and bursting into shrapnel. None of this matters, though, because you’re too busy hoping the portions in between will just end. Not good at all when there are only seven rather short stages in the whole game."

Your name is Apollo, and you’re a deity who rides a prissy winged horse named Pegasus. You also enjoy long walks by the beach with your buxom babe of choice, Artemis. One day, while you’re home in your sky palace, your main squeeze takes the barnyard reject out for a joy ride and doesn’t come back. You soon discover she’s been abducted by none other than a demon named Typhon, who apparently has enough strength that he’s not afraid to spit in your face. What’s a god to do?

Namco answers that question with Phelios. Originally an arcade shooter, the game was eventually ported to the Genesis system. It’s got seven stages of vertically-scrolling mayhem, complete with all the trappings of a traditional shooter and a few twists thrown in for good measure. But is it good? Will it hold your attention? Does it compare favorably to the many other shooters produced before and since? Sort of. For awhile. Not so much as you’d hope.

Phelios begins with bang, chock full of all the eye candy you could hope for. In the first stage, you fly over a courtyard that drops away to a verdant valley far below. Clouds drift aimlessly beneath you while hordes of flying enemies move in for the kill. You dodge them, exhilarated by the rush, weaving between shots and returning with your own firepower. Two thirds of the way through the stage, flying red worms breathe flaming spread shots while you counter with a vicious series of blade weapons you picked up from the corpse of an enemy just moments previous.

From there, you face a boss encounter with Medusa. A towering statue come to life, she hardly moves at all, save to fire deadly beams from her eyes. You’ll quickly find a strategy that works, hovering just left of her beams while you fire back with damaging shots of your own. As the statue’s projectiles spread around the screen and you zig and zag between them, you’ll fall into the ‘zone’ present in any good shooter. Before you know it, you’ll be thinking to yourself that it just doesn’t get better than this.

Unfortunately, in the case of Phelios, that’s absolutely true. The first stage really is my personal favorite. Not because it’s difficult (it’s not), but because it’s a feast for the eyes. Everything feels fresh and exotic. You’re still feeling the effects of the visual sucker punch, still rejoicing in the responsive controls and the variety of enemies. Then the second stage comes around, and suddenly the innovation seems to have disappeared. You’re in a drab dungeon that looks little different from the hallway just before Medusa in the previous stage, weaving back and forth, firing weapons, and yawning.

From that moment on, it seems like the bright spots are placed too far apart. For every innovative area, there’s a sea of random enemy patterns that serve to chip away at your three life meter slots and nothing more. Persevere and you’ll witness the ‘cave with intestines wiggling in the background’ area, a sky palace where knights flanking you from the rear try to drive lances up your butt, and even a zone where you have to shoot rolling blocks to prevent them from crashing into others and bursting into shrapnel. None of this matters, though, because you’re too busy hoping the portions in between will just end. Not good at all when there are only seven rather short stages in the whole game. It makes replays a truly tedious project. Who wants to go over some of those boring spots yet again, just to find out if maybe the sixth or seventh stage is as cool as the first? Certainly not I.

There’s another problem, too, in that the game is relatively simple compared to many of its competitors. The three-hit life bar is likely to blame. You’ll soon have the early stages memorized to the point where you can get through some of them without taking so much as a single hit. Even if you happen to die, you’ll be restored to one of the level checkpoints with a full life meter. Not only that, but upgrades are usually plentiful after such spawning points, so you don’t even suffer much there, except that you have to build up your peripheral weapons again. Indeed, the game seems developed so that once you memorize everything (which won’t take long) you can fly through it with nary a care in the world until you get back up to where you died the last time you played through.

Once you realize this, you’ll have to furnish your own means of entertainment each time you play through the early areas. The most amusing diversion is to see how many enemies you can fell with a single charge shot. As the meter fills up almost the instant you hold down the ‘A’ button, repeated blasts are a breeze. The game rewards you when you polish off a group of enemies in short order, and that makes the endeavor worthwhile. For about five minutes.

In the end, all that saves Phelios from the trash heap is its rather original (if poorly executed) premise. It is fun to fly on a horse and fight a demonic nemesis, rather than hopping into a spaceship to defeat some alien race. It is nice to see a hot babe looking to you for her salvation as bricks fall away to reveal she’s not wearing much more than a skimpy bra. And it’s nice to hear the digitized voice that begs you to keep up the rescue attempt. Still, such motivations can’t change the fact that Phelios is still highly derivative, and not much fun over an extended period. Pick it up if you find it in the bargain bin (as I did). Otherwise, save your cash and wrist muscles for other conquests. Artemis will understand.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 24, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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