When I heard that Tynesoft had released Phantom, described as one of "the new breed of arcade games". I expected an Electron version of the classic game The Gauntlet. As usual I was wrong.
The cassette inlay shows two players blasting a rather unpleasant looking, multi-limbed astral misfit and looks quite smart. The scenario is the present with the player taking the role of an absent minded professor of astrophysics with more than a passing interest in psychic phenomena.
He has long expected the impending catastrophe that is about to befall us - why else would he just happen to have a nuclear powered particle accelerator lying in his back yard?
The game loads and presents you with a start screen reminiscent of Future Shock and just as beautifully designed. Score, reactor level, heart rate in beats per minute (BPM) and electro-cardiograph (ECG) displays are in a window at the bottom of the screen.
In Phantom, as in life, you only get one chance. Each time you bump into one of the ghouls and spectres of the game they give you a terrible fright which increases your heart rate. Being a bit of an old codger with one foot in the grave already, 100 BPM is a little too much for his old ticker and it'll give up the ghost.
Press S to start and after nerve shattering music enter Ye Olde Inn viewed from above, as in The Gauntlet. It all seems very quiet and peaceful, until you discover that the ale must have been like liquid dynamite as deceased customers are very fond of the old place. Needless to say, they're not too keen on strangers and as soon as you put your head round the door they descend like rampant bluebottles.No problem: Just whip out your new iron cannon and start blasting. Zap! The spooks vanish in little clouds of ectoplasm. Neat little gadget this, since the beam can knock out several of them in one shot.
There is a snag though, and if like a good shoot-'em-up then you'd better think again. The backpack has a limited amount of power and once that's gone you'll have to wait until you find another isotope pack - it's the one with the coloured top: No other pack looks or lasts quite like it. A few are scattered throughout the game, but remember they don't last long.
To make matters worse your heart rate doesn't settle down from one level to the next. It does add to the fun and doesn't let you relax.
After battling through the four levels of the inn and cleaning up the ghouls you find yourself transported into the dungeon where a completely new set of nasties appear.
Luckily the journey between each new set of screens, which involves some loading from tape, gives your heart time to get back to normal. In all there are 64 rooms between the four houses, the ultimate being the castle, with the difficulty of maze and puzzle quality increasing throughout.
The graphics are superb: The characters and clear and well drawn and four colours of the Mode 5 display have been used to excellent effect. The animation is smooth and fast, and gets even faster as more spooks appear.
Soundwise the game is nothing to write home about, but this is a limitation of the Electron that has yet to be overcome.
Unlike most other games of this type, Phantom has another surprise up its sleeve. Whereas in The Gauntlet your objective was to hack through dozens of screens, in Phantom you have to figure how best to survive to the next level. Evasion seems to be the best tactic, shooting only when you have to. This adds greatly to the game's addictive quality.
There are only two very minor faults. First, the spooks can sometimes strike without you being able to shoot back, though this is not as bad as it sounds, and second the game is a bit slow to restart after you've been killed. This is annoying in such an addictive game.
Those minor criticisms apart, Phantom is without doubt one of the finest games I have ever played on the Electron and anyone, Tynesoft included, would be doing very well to better it.