Approximate Release Date: October 1, 1992
Genre: Side-scrolling shooter
If one were to make an award for best game with the worst box art, Phalanx is the hands-down winner.
I mean, seriously. Phalanx is a really good side-scrolling shooter that has been completely forgotten and made into a joke because of the hillbilly with a banjo. Not to say there aren’t goofy parts in the game – the hardest difficulty mode is “Funny” and the main character’s name is Wink Baufield – but this game shouldn’t be a laughing-stock. Phalanx is a little derivative, but it’s good!
There are a few smart decisions made here. First, the R button changes your ship’s speed. Many games of this genre, Gradius III being especially notable, have increased speed as a power-up. But not every situation calls for having a really fast ship. Sometimes being really fast means you overcompensate and actually run into the thing you’re trying to avoid. Being able to change speed whenever in Phalanx means you’ll always be ready for what’s coming.
Secondly, the bosses and minibosses tend to have many parts that can be destroyed. The first boss is a great example of this; it’s basically made up of a dozen or so different pieces that can be blasted apart to make the fight easier. Don’t like the laser balls it is shooting at you? Blow it up. Tired of the stupid arms knocking you out of the sky? Blow. It. Up. It’s fun to whittle away these imposing bosses down to little stubs that can’t even properly attack.
Lastly, Phalanx does a lot with the environment to provide new twists on the gameplay. In the first level, there’s a section where ships in the background fire artillery at you while enemies assault you in the foreground. You can’t do anything about it other than dodge, but it makes things exciting. In the second level, the middle part of the screen is underwater, but not the top or bottom. Other than looking cool, your ship is constantly being pushed back by the water. It changes things up more than just a different background would.
The only issue I have with Phalanx is how enemies and projectiles are too small sometimes. The first boss’ laser attack is a bunch of little balls that would be pretty hard to see on a small screen. When I think to a stereotypical living room in 1992, with a 19-inch television and a decent amount of space between the people playing and the TV, I could see that being really frustrating. Phalanx isn’t a hard game, and the default difficulty is the easiest setting, but you can’t fight what you can’t see.
It’s not revolutionary, but it’s fun. That’s the best way to describe Phalanx. It won’t surprise you, but you’ll have a good time. Too bad about the box art, though.
Tomorrow: I didn’t know there was a Q*bert 3! @!#?@!