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Phelios

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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 through them. 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 Phelios. Overall: 7 / 10

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