Retrogaming: Phoenix

I can’t believe we haven’t talked about Amstar‘s Phoenix yet. In the context of retrogaming, Phoenix was an early video game classic that stood alone and was very influential in its own right. Interestingly, almost nothing is known about the game’s origins and who designed Phoenix in the first place. Possibly even less is known about Amstar Electronics which, according to the game credits, was located in Phoenix, Arizona. See the link? Beyond that, the history of Phoenix is kind of murky. Thankfully, Centuri (Gyruss, Track and Field, Time Pilot and more) brought Phoenix to the masses (in North America) and a classic was born.

Phoenix is a fixed shooter and its own gameplay clearly drew from Space Invaders although visually, Phoenix was already much more advanced. Indeed, in the two years since Space Invaders was first released, available processors and graphical capabilities had already started to improve substantially. Looking at Phoenix today, the graphics obviously have that cool retro style, but in 1980 the artwork and colors were vivid and the enemy animations were completely mesmerizing. The different types of birds (phoenixes if you will) swooping towards your ship (which always kind of looked like a race car to me) and exploding into a red fireball when you scored a center hit was the coolest shit ever.  But not cooler or more terrifying than actually battling the mothership which is still very hard to beat. Trust me, I just tried.

Musically, Phoenix used Beethoven’s Für Elise as well as Romance de Amor (author still disputed) in different segments of the game. I always enjoy finding games that use classical music as it not only  gives a sort of classy feel to the game but also subtly says, “this is much easier and cheaper than composing original music”.  This is no lie as game developers are often on a really tight budget so there’s a lot of truth to that last statement. The music also has the added benefit of creating an interesting juxtaposition with the futuristic sounds of lasers and squawking phoenixes.

Phoenix Sequels: There never was an official sequel for Phoenix but there was a bootleg called Son of Phoenix, which was actually branded as Repulse. Repulse was also a fixed shooter with the same gameplay but with completely different graphics.

Here’s some good old Phoenix gameplay:

Year: 1980
Developer: Amstar Electronics
Publisher: Centuri, Taito
Designer: Unknown
Platform: Arcade, Atari 2600
Genre: Fixed Shooter

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