Reviewed by Michael LoCascio
Phelios places you in the role of Apollo. Your mission is to attain the
legendary sword Phelios and rescue Artemis from the monstrous
Typhon. The last type of game that you'd expect to have a plot like
this would probably be a shoot 'em up, but that's exactly what
Phelios is - and it's a darn good one at that.
It was rather ingenious of Namco to combine classic Greek
mythology with a genre that is generally thought of as being
somewhat shallow and straightforward. While Namco wasn't
able to merge these two concepts seamlessly, one area that
they did a fine job in is the cast of major enemy
characters. Monstrosities ranging from Medusa and Cerberus
to the three blind old ladies in "Clash of the Titans"
show up in Phelios. Your task is to destroy these
abominations, and your trusty horse Pegasus accompanies you
on your quest. Far from being your ordinary mammal, Pegasus
is a fantastic winged beast, and he also represents your
mode of transportation in the game.
Despite the atypical premise, the game play in Phelios is
quite similar to that of most vertically-scrolling, overhead
shooters. Apollo and Pegasus are controlled as a single
entity; Apollo does the shooting, Pegasus does the flying.
Apollo's sword acts as your primary weapon; pressing any of
the three buttons on the control pad will fire a shot of
energy (I guess that's what it is) from his sword. The
button-smashing that is characteristic of so many other
shooting games will get you no where in Phelios, however. In
order to release the true power of your sword, you must hold
the attack button down until your weapon becomes fully
charged (a meter on the side of the screen rapidly rises as
you press down on the button). Unleashing a fully charged
attack will lead to the demise of most enemies that you
face. While it may seem like such a lengthy delay in between
shots will leave you vulnerable for far too long, it is
really the only way to get anywhere in Phelios. Even the
meekest of enemy characters can typically shrug off your
normal attacks. Besides, if you time your attack right, you
can wipe out a number of enemies simultaneously with one
fully charged shot.
The controls in Phelios are rather typical for a shoot 'em
up. The control pad is used to control the flight of
Pegasus, while the press of a button causes Apollo to
attack. The only instances where the controls feel somewhat
inadequate is when the game momentarily decides to scroll
horizontally (through a narrow passageway, for example). For
some reason Pegasus decides it's more convenient to fly
sideways during these segments rather than face in the
direction of where he is heading. As a result, your sword is
always aimed up towards the top of the screen, even though
there may be enemies coming at you from the east or west.
Again, such instances occur very rarely, and once you're
familiar with these sections you'll have no problem getting
There are a few power-ups that you can acquire as your
journey progresses. Icons that increase your speed and
provide you with options (objects that replicate your every
move and attack) are rather abundant, and you can
occasionally find additional weapons, such as beams and
homing shots. Pretty standard stuff for the genre, but they
do provide a great amount of help - particularly the
options. With so many enemies bombarding Apollo at once, it
helps to have some extra firepower. The game aids you in a
way by placing most power-up icons at checkpoints (the
various locations where you begin should you die).
Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints in the game;
should you lose a life (believe me, you'll lose many of
them) you'll find yourself very close to where you just were
once play resumes.
Another aspect of the game that is relatively uncommon for
shooters is the life meter. You commence play with three of
the four energy slots filled, which is a nice change of pace
from the "one hit and you're dead" mentality of most games
in the genre. A margin of error is almost a necessity in
this title anyway; you'll almost certainly get hit a few
times just while you're in the middle of charging up your sword.
There are two levels of difficulty that you can try out:
Novice and Advanced. The game is hard enough on Novice, but
the only way to access the final three stages of the game
(as well as the ending sequence) is by playing on Advanced.
And if you happen to have your hands full with the Novice
mode (as I did initially), try not to think about the fact
that things don't really start to get rough until the level
following the final stage of Novice mode.
Phelios consists of seven stages in all. In between levels,
Apollo views an image of Artemis as she speaks of the pain
and suffering she is enduring at the hands of Typhon (I'm
not quite sure how Apollo and Artemis manage to communicate
with one another - it must be some sort of mythological
internet service). Not only do Artemis' words appear on the
screen, but Namco also implemented a voice for her in the
game. Well, it's a very good thing that they did include the
text, because otherwise you'd have no idea what the heck
she's saying; her voice is too muddled and high-pitched. Ah
well, you can't fault Namco for trying.
The intermission scenes don't contain the only lines of text
that pop up during your journey. Occasionally, a few words
of advice will appear at the top of the screen. These words
of wisdom either grant you a useful tip of how to destroy
(or avoid) upcoming enemies, or just state the obvious. The
battle against the Siren boss is one instance where the text
is more of a distraction than anything else. As the fight
commences, the game apparently feels that it must give you a
warning: "Siren is a dreadful witch." Yeah.. thanks. For a
moment there I thought that she was hurling deadly
projectiles at me because she wanted to make friends.
The graphics in Phelios are very well done. Particularly
impressive is the section of Stage One during which you
actually fly above the clouds and can look down on the
colorful landscape. You'll probably feel like you're flying
an airplane, besides the fact that you're moving at a
breakneck speed and huge, serpentine creatures are breathing
fire at you.
The music and sound effects in the game are also impressive
(besides Artemis' voice, of course). The soundtrack ranges
from upbeat, exhilarating tunes (during the high-flying
levels that take place in the sky) to intense, intimidating
tracks (often played inside of dungeons or caverns). The
sound effects are surprisingly solid; shooters can often get
annoying when you are forced to hear your screeching laser
cannon being fired over and over again, but Phelios manages
to keep the effects simple and subdued.
Phelios is an intense game due to the fact that it forces
you to repeatedly navigate narrow, crowded areas while
constantly charging up your sword. It isn't a very fast game
though - at least for the most part. One section of the
third level temporarily brings the speed of the game up a
notch or two. The action suddenly becomes very fast, as
"griffin knights" pursue Apollo and Pegasus. You'll have
to make your way through some pretty tight spots while these
guys are chasing after you; it's by no means an easy
segment. It is a very intense and enjoyable part of the
game, however. While the griffins fly faster than Pegasus
and will ultimately catch up to him, there are certain
tricks you can pull off to avoid their attacks. For one, the
griffins generally follow the flight pattern of Pegasus.
Should you lure them close enough to the side of a wall,
chances are good that they'll crash and explode (yes,
explode. I bet you had no idea how common explosions were in
mythological times). This scene is an example of the ways in
which Phelios breaks up the monotony in its game play. This
isn't your typical, formulaic shooter.
As exciting as it is, the scene with the griffin knights is
also incredibly difficult. Phelios can be a very frustrating
game - one in which you will be forced to repeat certain
stages a number of times before you'll be good enough to
conquer them. Whether or not you have the fortitude to stick
it out will likely be the factor that determines your
ultimate opinion of the title.
Another noteworthy aspect of the game is its options menu.
Normally, you'd expect to be able to set the difficulty of
the game, alter the number of lives you have, and do other
such things on an options screen. Phelios takes a completely
different approach by presenting you with the opportunity to
read a few small passages that provide some information on
the story behind each stage, as well as each boss. These
passages aren't very deep (and usually aren't even
coherent), but the concept is a cool one.
While Phelios has a lot going for it, there's no question
that this type of game won't appeal to everyone, especially
considering how difficult it is. Let's put it this way:
Phelios shouldn't serve as your introduction to the shoot
'em up genre. But if you're a veteran of the genre and
you're seeking a fresh new challenge, look no further than
Overall: 7 / 10