It's been a while since I've covered a C64 game, so I thought I'd rectify that by taking a look at Phobia, a horizontal shoot 'em up by Tony Crowther and David Bishop.
The Galactic Emperor's daughter has been kidnapped by an evil entity known only as Phobos. This dastardly individual has retreated so a distant solar system and it's fallen upon your shoulders to embark on a rescue mission and take out Phobos in the process.
Unfortunately, things have been made a little more complicated by the fact that the princess is being held inside the system's sun. Your ship's hull cannot hope to withstand the sun's heat, so the only means of protecting yourself is to locate components of a special shield that has been scattered across other planets in the system. To make matters worse, each planet has a defence system that taps into the human psyche, playing on all manner of underlying fears and phobias that must be conquered if you are to succeed.
The game features 15 main levels, each containing a planet that focuses on a specific type of phobia. The level and enemy designs use iconography and themes meant to convey the type of phobia you're facing; this is an extremely creative and unique concept for a shoot 'em up and gives rise to some very creative level art and enemy designs.
The creativity doesn't just stop with the level design either! If you're playing by yourself then you can deploy a second ship by tapping the space bar, effectively doubling your fire-power, although makes you a much bigger target as well. The best pilots know when to deploy and retract the secondary ship and it's a skill that becomes absolutely necessary to master if you hope to beat the game.
Something I hadn't immediately realised whilst playing is that each planet in the Phobos system is orbited by a small moon. These satellites will put out distress calls between each mission, enabling an optional mission where you might be able to earn some bonus weapons, although you do so at your own risk!
Even with an RRP of £12.99 for the disk version, I still think that game would have represented good value for money. With so many levels to choose from, plus the ability to choose your own path through the game (disk version) there's plenty of replayability here.
The game also impresses on a technical level, featuring (mostly) smooth scrolling, great graphics and neat effects, such as the scrolling parallax backgrounds. There's also some decent title screen music and effects to complement the visuals, resulting in a title that I'd certainly consider in the top tier of shooters for the day.
The game does, however, have some problems, not least of which is the hellish difficulty; you'll definitely need to put a lot of practice in to beat this.
Secondly, I noticed that the ship's weapons would fail to fire, despite repeated and prolonged stabs of the fire button - later levels require quick reactions and the ability to destroy barriers to proceed, but the inconsistency with shooting made getting past these sections somewhat troublesome.
Also, whilst I love the overall phobia concept, not all of the levels phobias are easy to understand. I also think the decision to include a level based on an eating disorder was ill-judged.
Despite these missteps, Phobia remains a solid arcade shoot 'em up package that fans of the genre are sure to enjoy and the huge number of levels means that there's plenty to keep you occupied.