Developer: Dave Weavil
I'll be honest, I picked this game up for the bonus mini-game Pirate. I am not familiar with the arcade version of Phantom II and while I enjoy a good vertical shooter, I’ve already got plenty to choose from and I just recently picked up Juno First, so adding another wasn’t a priority. But the premise of Pirate sounded very interesting and I’m always up for an exploration/adventure game. If Phantom II turned out to be fun as well, then THAT would be the bonus.
What’s All This Then?
Phantom II/Pirate is basically a multi-cart featuring two fully developed games that, due to their 4K limit (Phantom II was born of a 4K coding competition), would not have been big enough to warrant individual cart releases, but have been paired together in a fantastic one-two punch of fun gaming.
Phantom II is a vertical scrolling shooter in which you must chase down and take out enemy planes. You’ll fly through day and night and heavy cloud cover to shoot down squadrons of enemy planes and eventually large bomber planes that will partially refill your fuel reserves. You can’t fly forever and the longer you take to shoot down your targets, the more you will drain your fuel supply. You only get one plane, so if you collide with an enemy plane or run out of fuel your mission is over. The original game starts in black and white and if you are good enough to find and take out the UFO, you can unlock a color version of the game which features a special bonus stage where you can dock with a refueling plane and get more fuel to continue your mission.
Pirate is a completely different kind of game wherein you have set out to discover the lost treasure of the fiendish pirate Up Chuck DeLuc. You find yourself stranded on a remote island inhabited by snakes, a Voodoo Priestess and the ghost of DeLuc who wanders the island guarding his treasure. As you explore the island you will find tools to help you including a sword (for combat against the hostile inhabitants of the island), a shovel (to retrieve the treasure), and a flower which will restore your health should you succumb to the aforementioned inhabitants. While the island isn’t huge, it is completely unmapped (and all locations will reset for each new game!), and you’ll have to make your own map or just have a good memory to keep track of things as you find them. If you can collect the shovel and locate the “X,” which always marks the spot, before DeLuc and his minions find you, then you can claim the treasure and make sail for home. You can take three hits before you expire, so pick your battles carefully.
How’s It Play?
Phantom II plays beautifully. At first it looks like a really basic shooter and it can be very easy to underestimate this game; I did. But after playing it for a while you will begin to appreciate the nuances of the game. First and foremost, shooting the enemy planes isn’t as easy as it looks. The enemy planes are very good at darting out your sights and using the cloud cover to evade your shots. During the night sequences, the planes are invisible except when your radar sweeps the screen. This means that you’ll literally be firing blind for much of the stage. Shoot down enough enemy planes and you’ll have to take on the bomber. While being a bigger target, the bomber also takes more hits to defeat and that eats up precious fuel. Fuel consumption is a very big part of this game. Since you only have one plane, you must keep an eye on your fuel gauge and work to take out the enemy planes as quickly as possible. As you advance in the game this becomes increasingly difficult.
The controls are super tight and you have options for how long your fuel will last and whether your shots are guided or straight. There are even children's options for younger players, something you don’t see so much these days. Unlocking the "color" version of the game adds new challenges with the refueling plane and provides more layers to the gameplay.
Pirate also plays incredibly well. The game interface takes a couple of play throughs to get used to, but once you understand the mechanics, you'll be tromping all over the island with ease. The island conforms to a 7x7 grid giving you 49 possible “screens” to explore. Each screen will feature some island geography and perhaps one of the interactive elements of the game. You explore the island by moving around the grid one section at a time. Your main goal is to find the shovel and the X and retrieve the treasure. Sometimes the shovel is just lying about and sometimes it will be guarded by a snake or even DeLuc himself. You can engage any enemy in combat at any time, but your chance of success is greatly increased by finding the sword. The screen changes color to indicate a change in your status. The window border color indicates what items you are carrying and the color of the island features in the window indicates your health. As you explore you may also encounter the Voodoo Priestess. Defeating her will remove all snakes from the island and make things a little easier. Of course, defeating her isn’t a given, so you’ll want to weigh the risks/rewards of seeking her out.
Basically you move in each of the four cardinal directions and use the button to interact with things on the island. Very simple, but very fun.
Whistles and Bells
In addition to a colorful and beautifully illustrated (by the uber talented Dave Dries) manual, Phantom II/Pirate features the ultimate Whistle and Bell: a third hidden mini-game. This mini-game casts you in the role of a wizard who must discern the combination that unlocks a door to hidden treasure. The combination is worked by closing gaps in the walls. Close the gaps in the right order and the door will come down. Choose the wrong gap and a beholder (at least it looks like a beholder, it’s block with a single, glaring eye) will appear and attempt to incinerate you. You’ll have to work out the rest of the combination while avoiding the burning touch of the monster. As you advance, the number of gaps increases as does the speed of the pursuing monster. Only those with a keen mind and quick reflexes will be able to claim the treasure at higher levels. This hidden mini-game is as fun as the other two main games and puts some really sweet icing on what is already a well-packed game cartridge. For a hint on how to access the hidden bonus game inspect the back of your instruction manual under very good lighting.
I was pleasantly surprised by Phantom II/Pirate. I very seriously bought it solely on the back of my interest in the Pirate bonus game, but was happy to find out that Phantom II also presented a tightly designed vertical shooter that was fun and had more depth than I expected. While it's not likely that Phantom II/Pirate will go for long stretches in my VCS, it is highly likely that it will get popped in regularly and each game put through its paces. If you enjoy quick, easy-to-play games that are fun without being taxing, then this is a good game for you.
Tips and Tricks
Phantom II: The night sequences are by far the toughest. When the enemy plane appears, if you are now where near it, you can usually assume it flew straight up, so shoot at that place first. If that doesn’t work aim a little left or right and you will usually hit. This gets harder as the planes get faster.
Phantom II: Stay at the bottom. Except for the early stages when the planes move slowly and not as erratically, I tend to stay at the bottom of the screen. In the early stages you can play around a bit and fly into the collision zone, but later in the game this almost assures you a GAME OVER.
Phantom II: Be extremely careful when refueling at the tanker plane. It is VERY easy to collide with it and end your game. Go slow, line it up, and then refuel. You’ll run out of fuel anyway, so rushing into a collision will not help your cause.
Pirate: Don’t forget that you can run from DeLuc. Standing your ground with him should really only be a do-or-die situation as when he is standing on the X, otherwise run. Sure, he’ll steal your shovel if you are carrying it, but shovels can be found again. Run.
Pirate: Search the ENTIRE island before you start slashing at snakes. I’ve had games when a single snake was my doom. Make sure you cannot find everything you need through exploration first and use combat as a last resort.
Pirate: The island is 7x7. I like to explore by making my way to any corner of the island and then scanning left or right and ascending or descending the island accordingly. You may have to run from DeLuc, but just backtrack to the nearest edge of the island and begin again. This pretty much eliminates getting lost and it helps keep better track of the location of the X. (i.e. the X is 3 right and 4 up from the bottom left corner)
So there you have it! I went in for one fun game and got 3 instead! I really shouldn’t be surprised, Phantom II/Pirate is by David Weavil, the same guy who brought us Dungeon and is about to release its much anticipated sequel! Weavil has made a name for himself as a top level game developer in the homebrew scene and Phantom II/Pirate is another feather in his cap. If you are a fan of mini-game style fun, Phantom II/Pirate belongs in your collection.