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For an early SNES game (1992), Phalanx really knew how to show off what made the SNES beyond both the NES and the Genesis. The music is funky and makes nice use of stereo. The graphics are excellently detailed and vibrant. Special effects such as the transparent wavy water in the second stage simply could not have been achieved on other systems at the time.
But it's gameplay that makes or breaks a game, and Phalanx somehow stuck out against the other shoot-em-ups I'd played. And not just because of the old man playing the banjo on the cover.
Your ship has the ability to switch between 3 speeds, from very slow to very fast, which is very important at times for dodging some of the denser collections of bullets that occur at times. You can also store up to 3 different weapons. But here's the unique thing: you can use a "special attack" that does tremendous damage at the cost of one of your weapons, and in some cases but not all, also makes you invincible. A lot of strategy goes into using those special attacks at the right times, sometimes to avoid death and sometimes to defeat a mini-boss or boss quickly, as some can be taken down with only two or even one special attack used intelligently. Depending on how the special attack functions, it can be a matter of aiming the special attack right at the boss's weak point, or waiting for it to be exposed.
This is also important because dying is painful. You respawn on the spot, but lose your current special weapon and all your attack power goes down to level 1 (3 being highest). Sometimes, it's better to just use a special attack and lose a weapon that way, than to lose it in death. Sometimes power-ups are plentiful, and sometimes not - the levels aren't consistent about how often you'll get them, which is why Continuing Is Painful on certain levels (4 and 5 in particular) but not others.
Sometimes, if you see a new weapon to pick up while your slots are full, it might be a good idea to switch to the weapon you don't want and special attack it away, and then pick up the replacement.
This isn't what many would call a fantastic game, but to me, it's a personal classic and a lot of fun, with action and some strategy. I really like it.
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