Monday, 9 May 2011

Phaeton (ZX Spectrum)

Released back in 2010 for the 48KB ZX Spectrum, Rafal Miazga's Phaeton is a unique arcade-puzzle/logic affair.  Again, as with Genesis: Dawn Of A New Day, it was the screenshots on the World of Spectrum news portal that grabbed my attention, and I immediately (and mistakedly) assumed that Phaeton would be a exploratory shoot 'em up similar to the popular 80's classic Cybernoid.  After all, the loading screen and in-game shots featured a flying saucer on the screen with a couple of satellite upgrades orbiting it, and even the mythical name sounds like it is going to be a blast-fest.  Unfortunately my assumption was wrong, but thankfully in this case there was a silver-lining on my cloud of dissapointment.

Phaeton is in fact a logical puzzle game requiring arcade relexes and skill to beat.  You guide your saucer around each flick-screen maze on a dangerous mission to retrieve highly radioactive isotopes from a terrorist organisation.  Orbiting your vunerable ship are two shielding satellites that take damage upon touching the landscape or enemy drones, so to navigate around the maze you have to alternate the direction of their orbit (by pressing fire) enabling you to navigate past obstcles and through tight gaps.  The trick is to keep both satelittes from colliding with anything while still managing to collect and actvate items with your saucer craft - and even though the game plays at a sedate pace, working out how to navigate past some of the obstcales you encounter is quite frankly as hard as nails.

Although there's no shooting involved (at least not from the player ship) there is still plenty of Cybernoid-style exploration to be done, with switches to open locked doors and isotopes to locate and collect.  In easy mode you have an unlimited number of orbital direction changes at your disposal (although the fixed pause between switches still means that you cannot keep the satellites' positions static), whereas in difficult mode the game is nigh impossible - you have a limited number of changes that are only incremented when you successfully collect the radioactive canisters.

Despite some excellent graphics and solid game design, Phaeton is not without a few minor flaws.  Upon loading the game you are treated to an excellent title track by the reknown Mister Beep, but as soon as you press the start button the music stops; there is no in-game music at all and the sound effects are minimal (which to be fair is unsurprising for a 48KB game).  It's a shame that Phaeton doesn't make use of the 128KB Spectrum's extra RAM, but it's hardly a game-breaker.  The other issue is of course the game's speed (or lack of); Phaeton does feel very slow to play, which can be both off-putting and frustrating for people looking for a more 'twitch' gameplay experience (which really is what this type of game should be).

In conclusion, Phaeton is an enjoyable little game with some original ideas that I for one would like to see expanded on in the future (and perhaps on a more powerful computer).
Download it here (from the World Of Spectrum website).
Run it using Spectaculator (shareware) or Klive (freeware).
3 out of 5