First Impressions: Phalanx

Another great old-school shooter for WiiWare

Most of you will probably remember Phalanx as a SNES game, however that was just a port of a game that was developed for the Sharp X68000, a home computer sold exclusively in Japan from 1987-1993. The Sharp X68k (as it was commonly known) used hardware similar to arcade systems of the time; as a result it was capable of running some quite impressive games - like Phalanx.

When you first start it up you'll see a rather lengthy intro which is a direct lift from the original X68k version, right down to the start screen: the only addition is a prompt to press "+" to start. The screens that follow also look like an old 16-bit computer screen with low-res graphics and chunky fonts (completely in English - very import-friendly). Amongst other options is the ability to choose between X68k Mode or Wii Mode.

X68k Mode is the original game; not so much a WiiWare offering as what would be a Virtual Console game if the X68k were supported. The action is smooth and the sound is excellent - honestly this could be an arcade game. The smooth movement and detail outstrips anything you're likely to have seen on an SNES or Mega Drive. Best of all in the options screen you can play all 15 audio tracks and 87 sound effects!

The game looks much like R-TYPE in design, though enemies are larger and the difficulty is amped up. Comparing video of the X68k and SNES versions of Phalanx it's clear that the original is the more challenging game, though the level structure and enemies are similar. There's an interesting power-up system at play here: you can collect up to four additional weapon types which include lasers, a chargeable shot, homing shots and a spread gun. Guns are fired with the (1) button (the game is played with the remote alone NES-style or optionally using the Classic Controller), but whilst the gun type changes when you grab the matching icon you retain the ability to toggle through previously obtained weapons using (A). Pressing (2) will launch one of four different "bomb" attacks, however this will expend your currently enabled weapon, so there's a bit of strategic decision-making required on the part of the player. There are also missiles you can get via a pick-up which are fired automatically and eventually run out, and a power-up which raises the power level of all weapons in your stockpile.

The game features the usual array of enemy space ships, sub-bosses and bosses. The boss fights are rather lengthy and bosses have multiple methods of attack and are large and nicely animated. You're able to destroy specific parts of boss ships which adds some strategy, allowing the player to take out different enemy weapons as they see fit.

Game levels take place on an alien planet through different environments: city, underwater, forest, etc. Once you've cleared a level you'll be able to start a future game there; sadly high scores only appear to be recorded for finishing the game with only one score visible for each difficulty and no initials for bragging rights. You have a limit of 5 continues, which should be enough for a skilled player to complete the game: it's challenging, but not unfair and above all, fun!

The Wii Mode of the game looks very similar to X68k Mode. There's some additional small enemies and some of the bosses and enemies have different colours from the X68k Mode (pink instead of yellow, for example). The biggest difference is some cute-em-up changes: mines from the original game are replaced with round kitties, mines in the underwater level boss fight have smiley faces, etc. It's likely this mode was created just to allow the game to be sold as WiiWare as Nintendo have rejected attempts to sell emulated games outside of the Virtual Console in the past. It doesn't seem like a mistake that "Wii Mode" is treated more like an extra on the game - the default setting is X68k mode - so Zoom seems to have pulled off a stealth emulation on WiiWare in this case!

Given the worldwide release of the SNES port of Phalanx, it's quite likely we'll see a release of this brilliant arcade-quality shooter worldwide in the near future. When that day comes old-school shooter fans can rejoice!

[via nintendo.co.jp]