Phelios - Namco


Namco/Sega - Sega Mega Drive - 1990

Reviewed by Alex Vormbrock (a.k.a. Herr Schatten).

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 got 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.


Chapter one: Devil in Delos

Only a few inches in the game, we encounter the first generic enemies. The shooter snake makes an appearance, this time disguised as some sort of dragon.

This is actually the most beautiful level in all the game. The landscape looks very nice and with all the parallax scrolling and the clouds you really get the impression of flying high above the ground.


Medusa is the first boss. Not much to say here. Her head floats around and she shoots lasers that reflect at odd angles. Very easy, actually.


Inbetween levels, Artemis appears in a huge magic mirror and sends you messages. As these are usually not very helpful, feel free to laugh about the badly done voice overs.


Chapter two: Death Dungeon

Halfway through level two, we encounter this variation on the R-Type ring of doom. I have no idea why this one is composed of roast chicken.

This scene is very tricky if you are actually in the middle of the ring (as you are supposed to be, I guess), but if you just stay at the lower left corner, it's ridiculously easy.

After taking apart the ring, the coloured glass window shatters and you descend into the dungeon.


The dungeon's an interesting passage because the screen scrolls in funny directions at times.

Sadly, the walls and enemies here look like they have been painted by a four-year-old.


The three Graiae are the bosses of level two. Shoot their hands first, then avoid the floating heads while trying to get a few hits in.

The vulnerable spot is the glowing orb. It looks like an alien egg to me, but the manual assures me it's a crystal.


After level two, instead of a message from Artemis you get this picture of Typhon.

He obviously has a severe bad breath problem. Once more poor dental hygiene drives a gifted young man into becoming an evil super-villain.


Chapter three: Blue Parboleos

This scene's pretty cool. You have to go through this high speed passage, while griffon riders come up from behind. They follow your path, so you can make them crash into the walls.


Every now and then, the game displays captions like this one. I suppose they are meant to be helpful, but actually most of them are utter nonsense.

'Siren is a dreadful witch.' Good to know that. Otherwise I might have thought she's throwing those fireballs because she fancies me.


Chapter four: Fire Devildom

Every shmup must have a snake, a fire stage and an ice/crystal level. We encountered the snake in level one, so here's the fire stage.

This level's very generic. In fact, I wouldn't miss it much.


This fire monster is easy to beat. Just avoid his floating arms and dart in and out to hit him.

The vulnerable spot is the head, as another one of those highly useful captions just tells us.


Chapter five: Icebound Soul

The ice level is another generic type of shooter stage.

This one's pretty cool, though. It works like an oversized pachinko machine, as those big spiked balls roll through the corridors.


This boss is supposed to be Scylla. But wasn't Scylla a sea monster? I wish my knowledge of Greek mythology was better.

For unknown reasons, I found it impossible to beat this boss when I had two options. I always died because I couldn't take out those purple things quickly enough. However, with only one option it becomes very easy. Must have something to do with the firing rate.


The wall in front of Artemis gets removed bit by bit to show that she is taking off some of her clothes. Maybe she wants to encourage Apollo that way.

Note that she didn't wear a bra in the first picture. I wonder how she managed to put it on with her hands still cuffed to the wall.


Chapter six: Watchdog in Hell

This level is an absolute nightmare. Do you see that little green man there? These guys are everywhere and they throw those huge brown things of which I want to believe that they are rocks. The rock-throwers are not easy to take out and if you don't do it quickly enough, the screen gets very crowded with no room left to dodge. You actually have to memorize where those guys will show up and then shoot them just before they appear onscreen.

This is where you desperately miss a TATE option for that game.


Finally, the single decent boss of the game.

This is actually supposed to be Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell. Doesn't look much like a dog to me, but at least it has three heads.


I bet Artemis is completely naked by now. Maybe that's why we only get to see this closeup.


Chapter seven: The Temple of Typhon

This level is an insult to the eyes. I can't understand why the Namco guys had to make the last level that ugly. It looks like the stuff I did in DPaint when I was about fourteen.

After that tough level six, this one's really easy. I never managed to die here. You have to collect the letters P, H, E, L, I, O and S to upgrade your sword's charge shot from a moderately sized fireball to an impressive beam of mass destruction.


This is the first part of the final boss fight. The caption informs me that the hooded figure is Typhon. The word 'Phelios' to the right means that I managed to collect all the letters necessary for the sword upgrade.

You can see me using the upgraded super charge shot here. One of those is enough to destroy Typhon. He reappears seven times, but it's always equally easy. Killing him boosts your score, so you can collect a considerable amount of extra lives.


After killing Typhon several times his pet demon awakes. The fight gets really tough and very frustrating here. The demon will advance slowly until he's virtually on top of you. It gets very difficult not to run into him, even if you are allowed to touch his wings and legs.

To make things worse, he can only be injured by fully charged super beams. Surprisingly, the vulnerable spot is his crotch, so keep firing there. (Ouch!)

The only real problem I have with people reviewing games for shmups is that it makes me want to go buy games I'd previously disregarded. I fired up this in mame, and it looks pretty similar really - the megadrive did a great job of transferring the arcade game... I mean, it's not really astounding or anything but very enjoyable to blast through. I do like non-spaceship shmups as well - who can't love a character which is a bloke on a winged horse? Thanks Alex! :) - malc


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