Fab At Forty: Pheenix
In the first of another regular series on Antstream Arcade, we take a peek back at a specific game from 1983, when gaming exploded in the UK. And what better place to start than an underrated gem from the computer that helped kickstart the gaming phenomenon, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum? Welcome to the first of our games that is ageing radiantly in Fab At Forty!
Author: Martin Ward
Platform: 16K ZX Spectrum
In the time-honoured tradition, the player pilots a sole spacecraft against a fleet of alien invaders. Unfortunately, the powerful Space Pheenix has chosen Earth as its next target. Over several alternating scenarios, waves of diving enemies attack you before it’s time to face off against a massive mothership. Destroy its defensive shield and kill the alien queen inside before moving on to the next alien fleet. You can attack and defend with your laser cannon and defensive shield, respectively – just not at the same time!
Squeezed into less memory than your average email, Pheenix is a mightily fun and playable little game that has continually sparked the imagination of Antstreamers. Created in super-fast machine code, author Martin Ward did a wonderful job of engineering lightning gameplay across five varied screens. The multiple shots make the game significantly easier until the final face-off against the mothership, an early example of a boss battle on the ZX Spectrum. An arcade treat for Speccy fans that’s instigated an intense high-score battle on Antstream Arcade!
Pheenix is a somewhat unsubtle clone of the 1980 Taito arcade game Phoenix.
Author Martin Ward published the game under his own label, Megadodo.
Martin created every aspect of the game, from code to sound and even designed its cover.
Martin initially sold Pheenix via mail order before negotiating a deal with WH Smith, among others.
Pheenix featured heavily in the publicity for Amstrad’s e-Mailer Plus in the early Noughties.
Although Pheenix remains Megadodo’s only release, Martin went on to enjoy a successful career in the games industry.
New budget software house Alternative purchased the game in 1986, giving it a fresh cover and a low price.
15 purple and yellow flying aliens circle above the player, incessantly dropping bombs. Your craft can fire one shot at a time as the aliens move from left to right and back. Occasionally, one will dive down towards the player in a grim suicide assault. Fortunately, the player has a few seconds to take out the enemies as they assemble – use this time wisely!
The next set of aliens have green bodies and purple wings and are much more aggressive than their predecessors. Fortunately, the player’s craft can now fire multiple shots.
Eight alien eggs intersect above the player. These are harmless and can be shot (with a precise shot to their centre), but soon crack and then hatch into giant blue birds, angrily dropping bombs and dive-bombing the player’s craft. There are multiple shots here again, but destroying these deadly birds also requires an exact shot to their centre.
Another wave of alien eggs hatches into purple flying beasties that are even meaner than the last lot. But it’s the last line of defence before the final battle against the enemy leader.
Wave Five – Mothership
The alien Pheenix mothership is before you! This gigantic colourful spaceship houses a well-guarded queen Pheenix, protected by multiple flying drones and two powerful shields. For humankind to repel this alien threat, the player has to destroy the red and blue shields before having a potshot at the queen herself. With enemy fire raining down, this is no easy task!
Having been released in the early days of the ZX Spectrum, Pheenix’s competition was BASIC-written games still predominantly sold via mail-order. However, author Martin Ward spectacularly broke the mould with this arcade fixed shooter. “This is a very classy piece of machine-code programming, highly professional from start to finish,” gushed Home Computer Weekly in its five-star review of October 1983. “Superb presentation, graphics and sound – highly recommended.” A few months later, Crash Magazine featured Pheenix in its Living Guide, making the shoot-‘em-up its Crash Guide Game Of The Month. “The Spectrum has been pushed a long way with this game,” noted Matthew Uffindel. “And what’s so appealing is that it has all been fitted into 16K. Definitely a game to add to your collection.”
We agree, Matthew, and forty years later, Pheenix still feels as fresh and fun as the day it was first loaded into Spectrums up and down the land. Lean, mean and athletic, this is one fit game still entertaining young and old gamers. And you don’t need to collect it – Pheenix can be played, for free on Antstream Arcade.
To keep up with its high score table and more, check out Pheenix on Antstream Arcade, with our new premium subscription available for just £1 per month! For gaming news, new games, challenges and more, head over to our Discord channel: https://discord.gg/antstream. Watch out for another Fab At Forty game soon!
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