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Phantom Fighter (NES) artwork

Phantom Fighter (NES) review


"It's pitch-black and freezing. The wind doesn't chill your bones as much as the stillness hanging over all the Chinese villages. The hustle and bustle of human life had been replaced by the horrified screams of the villagers as the kyonshis, undead creatures of East Asian folklore, devoured them, and then there came only complete silence. Even the insects dare not buzz and pasturing animals remain invisible. If a man were to listen ..."



It's pitch-black and freezing. The wind doesn't chill your bones as much as the stillness hanging over all the Chinese villages. The hustle and bustle of human life had been replaced by the horrified screams of the villagers as the kyonshis, undead creatures of East Asian folklore, devoured them, and then there came only complete silence. Even the insects dare not buzz and pasturing animals remain invisible. If a man were to listen hard enough, they'd hear the patter of the homeless fighting master Kenchi and his bumbling sidekick, ridding town after town of horrible the horrible undead with a stiff leg and and a short arm.

But something else calls out over the patter. It sounds like the soughing of the wind. No, it's the sigh of the gamer, one that found a game with loads of potential and strong atmosphere, but ultimately was disappointed with what a wash Phantom Fighter turned out to be.

Enter the first house and be ready to battle. Your opponent is a rather round kyonshi hopping slowly across the screen at you. You only have two means of offense, a lousy punch with horrible range and a semi-lousy kick with slightly better range. You can tell which one is neglected in that pairing. All that you must do is wait for the kyonshi to come within kicking distance and let loose those legs of fury.

Either the first blow will knock the kyonshi back, or the second, or you will be unlucky enough to have the creature push past your kick and jump into you. You could try to run away, but the trouble with this supposed martial arts “master” is that he moves like he has a broken hip. He doesn't turn around with that “ohshit” urgency, but more like he's gotten bored and has decided to see what's in the freezer. Meanwhile, your kyonshi succeeds in knocking him down, only to leap forward again and wait for Kenchi to stand back up to be knocked down again.

You will get owned a lot early on. Hell, you'll get owned a lot even after you start doing the owning. Mitigating damage seems virtually impossible since you never know when one of your blows will actually knock the kyonshi down and give you an advantage, or when the collision detection will just decide that the opponent's blow is ineffective and give you an unfair advantage; you never know when the enemy will push past your kick and nail you, then continually cheese you from there.

Your only choice is to kick the enemy, back away as quickly as you can before it has a chance to hop again, and continue the process until you've vanquished the demon. Then it's on to the next room or on to the next building to do the same thing again. You'll be kick-kick-kicking so much you'll think Kenchi is a ballet instructor and this is actually DDR: Undead Edition.

Defeating the kyonshis is not without reward as you can gain access to the owner of the house, usually locked away in the back in a pool of his own urine, and obtain some goodies like a worthless sword or talisman, access to a temple where you can restore your life between battles, or some scrolls. Take said scrolls to the dojo, ask a ridiculously easy question, then trade the scrolls for a new fighting technique such as different punches and kicks or increased speed or jump height. Kenchi slowly transforms from an arthritic master to a somewhat capable pedestrian. Kyonshis start dying faster, levels go by more quickly, and all is right with the world.

So right, in fact, that you'll be able to kick the undead with your eyes closed. Phantom Fighter has a very low range of enemy types. Most of them are just modified version of the first enemy, some taller, some shorter, some pink, others maroon, but all can be killed roughly the same way by simply mastering the timing behind the kick and running away as needed. Enemies become a tad tougher as levels go by, but that can be alleviated by going to the dojo. Since you can revisit the same houses over and over again and keep getting the same rewards, you can easily grind for scrolls by fighting the same battle again and again.

A pattern begins to develop with each town. Once you figure out the best plan of attack, it doesn't differ much. You wind up looking for the temple first, then grinding scrolls until you have enough to obtain new techniques, then searching each house until you've found the goal of the town: finding three crystals. It all culminates in an anti-climactic battle in the very last building, usually a cave, against a boss that's really just a regular enemy painted a different color, and then the mind-numbing process begins anew.

Repetition is not inherently a bad thing. Fast-paced and engaging games like Pac-Man rely on repetition and are so intense that you don't notice it. But a slower, clunkier game like Phantom Fighter becomes bogged down by it. There is no variety in the gameplay whatsoever. It's go to location A, kick the enemies to death, go to location B, kick the enemies to death...and so on until you reach the boss, whom you must also kick to death.

It's refreshing to see a game escape the standard side scroller fare, but saddening to see it sink when you realize that its attempt to be different just damned it.

Phantom Fighter holds some great atmosphere and quirky charm, but sadly threatens to bore you with slow and repetitive gameplay. One can't help but feel that it's limited by the lack of buttons, almost like the game was before its time. Maybe this would have worked out better on SNES with more buttons to choose from and more complex animations. I really wanted to like Phantom Fighter and its unique feel, but I just can't get past the game-killing repetition and clunky controls.

Rating: 4/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 10, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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