Overall Score 77%
The Earth has been destroyed by aliens. I'm sorry if this comes as a shock, especially since you may believe you are on said Earth reading this, but I'm afraid it's true. The Earth has been destroyed, and only six humans have survived. Five of them are in survival pods and the sixth - yourself - is piloting a fighter. Your task is to defend these five pods from the aliens hellbent on wiping out the few remaining humans.
I'm not overly sure what the point of this is - I mean, six humans is barely enough to repopulate a corner shop, much less an entire planet - but since when did plot bear relevance to gameplay? Phoenicas is a vertical shooter with a passing nod to both Galaga and, more suprisingly, Defender. You blast the aliens as they attack. Why concern yourself with reasons why?
There are some unusual aspects to Phoenicas, however. One of these is only having one life - take too many hits from the aliens, and it's Game Over. You can restore shields by successfully blasting back and there are plenty of weapon upgrades and pickups to help you along. But the pods are the important thing - the aliens will seek to destroy or steal them and you need to both protect them and catch them if they fall.
In one respect, Phoenicas follows a modern trend - you control your ship with the mouse. This is much easier with a real one than my laptop's touchpad, though don't expect any rapid flights across the screen either way. Blast away with the left mouse button. You have a choice of control methods - the easiest blasts straight up while more advanced methods allow you to aim off-centre. You can choose your method from the options menu.
Good looking and with several thumping music tracks - except for the plunky, dischordant, haunting piano on Game Over - Phoenicas is both attractive and professional - another example of how Dark Basic can produce high quality games. Neat touches include the way you can shoot one wing off a bat and it continues to flap weakly with the other one! Hit the head for a fast kill.
My only concern is with the playability. Phoenicas offers an "Easy mode", which halves the number of bullets the enemy fires. This is the default mode on install and given some of the screenfuls of bullets I have seen, I dread to think what the screen gets like with it deactivated. I also found the fighter to move rather slowly (though the recoil when you fire is excellent). But most irksome, one has only one life. Never mind about the pods - if your fighter is destroyed, it's game over. I like this in one sense but it is frustrating when things get hectic. Among the good points are the text that identifies falling pickups when you fly beneath them, a helpful addition that saves you needing to memorise colour codes.
There are several game types. The main game features three "parts" with different foes, and you can also practice the parts you have reached in the main game. Complete the main mode and you can play an endless Marathon mode. You can also practice against "spawning" enemies. Phoenicas is good for a quick blast but may not hold your attention for hours at a time. Fancy something different from your shoot-em-up? Download the demo and see what you think.
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