Genre: Shmup Developer: Namco Publisher: Namco Players: 1 Released: 1990
I always had a weak spot for shmups that took a step aside from the usual ‘starships in deep space’-formula. That’s why games like Dragon Spirit, Wings Of Death or various cute’em-ups are always on top of my list. So, naturally, I instantly fell in love when I first got Phelios, a shmup in which Namco decided to virtually slaughter Greek mythology. After some hours of continuous playing, however, I fell out of love again. Now I have some kind of a love/hate relationship to Phelios.
The story of the game goes like this: Artemis, goddess of the moon, is kidnapped by evil Typhon. Apollo, god of the sun, saddles his winged horse Pegasus, grabs his sword Phelios and rides into battle. He has to go through seven vertically scrolling stages to finally beat Typhon and free Artemis.
You control Apollo who is mounted on the back of his winged horse. Pushing a button makes his sword fire a tiny little shot. If you hold down the button, you can charge the sword (much like the beam in R-Type). Upon releasing the button again, the sword shoots a bigger fireball that does a fair amount of damage. Even the smallest enemies take multiple hits, so your standard shot is pretty useless. You will be firing charge shots all the time, which somehow gives the game a rather slow-paced feel.
The levels vary greatly in style, but their sub-themes are very generic. Almost each level contains at least one scene where you have to employ a special strategy to succeed. These special tasks considerably spicen up the gameplay, even though some of them could have been implemented better. A good example for this is the last stage, where you have to collect all the letters of the word ‘PHELIOS’ in order to upgrade your charge shot. This is a nice idea, but it would have been good if the letters were somewhat hidden. You actually cannot miss them as you go through the last stage and the letter symbols even move in your direction. Thus, it’s impossible not to fulfill the task, which renders the whole affair pretty useless.
The powerups are nothing to get excited about. In addition to the usual stupid speedups you can collect up to two Gradius-like options and a small range of special weapons. These special weapons last only a limited time and are few and far between. I’d have preferred it if they popped up randomly, but they always appear at the same places. None of them are too useful, so you don’t really have to bother with’em. Still, it would’ve been nice if you could experiment with their effects on different occasions.
Your winged horse is very big and it has a large hitbox, which sometimes makes it difficult to dodge. Fortunately, you don’t die instantly if you get hit. You’ve got a little life-meter that can take two hits before the third one finally takes you down. You can refill the life-gauge by collecting the appropriate powerup, but that particular extra appears only once in all the game. How stupid is that?
The graphics start out really well in stage one, but for unknown reasons, they grow steadily worse as the game continues. The last stage must be the single most ugly final level of all the games I’ve ever played. The graphics there would have been considered bad for a NES game, but for a Mega Drive shmup they are so awful I can barely clad it in words.
The music in Phelios is quite nice and humm-able, but the sound effects are unexciting. The voice-overs you can hear in the cut-scenes where Artemis talks to you through the magic mirror are so bad they are worth a good laugh. If the speech wasn’t captioned, you’d never guess what’s being said.
Overall, Phelios is a game that’s full of promising ideas, but it fails miserably in trying to tie them all together and form a fine shmup out of them. The game seems unfinished and rushed at times and leaves much to be desired. Also, the last boss battle is so incredibly hard and frustrating that it’s no fun anymore. So I can’t really recommend Phelios. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not very good either. I imagine it could have been much better.
Originally posted at shmups.com.
SCORE: 6 out of 10