This is a milti-blog, multi-game series. Each blog will cover a relatively unknown game or just one youve only heard of in passing that deserves your attention, Some will be good and some will be bad but hopefully all will be interesting.
Ah yes the 90's. The age of Swat Kats and Biker Mice on Mars (Also, anyone remember the mighty ducks cartoon? Yeah, I do.). While most executives in the entertainment industry were snorting all the crack/cocaine in the world, there were only a few shows that have stood the time (Hint: Its not a smurfs reboot). No, I'm talking about Phantom 2040
See, for whatever reason We 90's kids saw a huge influx of cartoons with environmental messages or just very "adult" themes in general. These cartoons were just more experimental as a whole. I suppose it started with Captain Planet and soon spread to other cartoons, not that Captain Planet had any depth though. Phantom 2040 on the other hand was a full of themes that was more on the adult side. It debuted in 94', a mere two years after Batman: TAS. It received great reviews upon arrival but little fanfare, perhaps as it tackled issues of environmentalism, individuality, and man's never ending battle of class warfare. This is a rare breed of cartoons, well at least for America. Although, if you knew who worked on it it would make sense. A few years before MTV had started something called LiquidTV. It was a really cool, ultra-experimental animation-bloc showcasing some really original IPs. A good comparison would be say Vertigo, the comic imprint. LiquidTV, was home to shows such as Dog-Boy, The Specialists, and perhaps most notable Aeon Flux. It was an unfortunately short lived endeavour by MTV and ended soon after (I think Sega was hogging all the coke.) One of the creative minds behind the show went on to the just as short lived Phantom 2040. Despite only going for thirty-five episode before being relegated to 6:00 a.m. reruns on saturday morning. Even though the critics loved the darker dystopian world the audience it was intended for, kids, just said "character development, what's that?". The thing was that even though it was pitched to the coked-up execs as a show about a futuristic superhero it really wasn't about that. It feature the titular character out of costume just as much perhaps even more out of costume. He wasn't fighting villians threatening to plant a bomb in the water filtering plant but instead corporations that featured non-caricatured execs that were morally ambiguous. A lot of the storylines just did not follow standard procedure and thus it was cancelled. But there was hope...........
The ending theme to the show, *sniff *sniff Bono sounds so sad.
Yes Indeed there was hope for the people who wanted to dive back into the world of Metropia, the fictional city in which the Phantom preys on those who would do harm. A game was slated for release and even better it was developed by Sunsoft. The very devs who took on the property that was perhaps the biggest rival to the show, Batman. There were two versions a SNES and Genesis but I'm only covering SNES for various reasons. One is that it's slightly difficult to find in-depth info on the game and two the games awesome music is undoubtedly butchered by the metallic fap sounds emitted by the Genesis and its cheap sound card. But the Snes music rivals that of F-Zero, no I'm dead serious, watch the intro and just listen to that shizzz.
Dat Slap Bass
The music is great but this isn't just a good sound game, its an awesomely fun game too. Let me sell you on it real quick if I may. Metroidvania. I'm sure you're paying attention now. Super Metroid released March of 94' while Phantom 2040 launched on the SNES just a little more than a year later. That is impressive considering the sprite work is great and it even advances non-linearity past even Metroid with its unique alternate plot decisions you the player can make. The game is divided into seven chapters so although you might not have the ubiquity of planet zebes or whatever the fuck it's called it is going for something different. While Super Metroid was a master-class in the art of minimalism in story and presenation, Phantom 2040 is chock full of twisting turning plot points and hazardous adventures across the globe. You the player must don the mask of the Phantom as you stop a sinister plot of the main foil, Rebecca Madison, Head of Maximum corp. The plot is actually really good in a gamey sort of way and manages to preserve a lot of intense ideas setup in the show. Both the game and show have the same backstory though the game definitely takes some detours. The setup of the show is as follows: The show follows Kit Walker, a college student who discovers some things he shouldn't have. It is the year 2040, New York City and nearby meteopli have all coalesced into one giant city-state. The city is run technically by a government but really its the corporations running the show with an iron grip on the natural resources.. Resources are scarce and because of this the poor have been shunned to the side living in slums down below with no relief in sight. This is compounded by the creation of BIOTs which are basically androids. Since android technology was something created by corporations and is undoubtedly expensive. its asking price only benefits the wealthy; who live in the top of these mega skyscrapeers protected from the filth and squalor down below by security bots, while being wined and dined by service bots. Interestingly The Phantom is not just some white knight protecting the poor and opressed. He has his own demons. Kit Walker , the teen who dons the mask isn't the first Phantom. He's the 24th. The show plays with this fact greatly. There are many people who aren't just villains per se but oppose the Phantom because of past transgressions. For example, one of the antagonists is insane because he thinks his father was killed by the 23rd Phantom. He hunts after Kit trying to kill him. The main villian is Rebecca Madison, CEO of Maximum Inc. She is not the scourge of the earth who makes dramatic monologues like Dr. Claw. No, she is actually a fleshed out character with emotion, thoughts and has had some terrible things happen to her, such as beng widowed by who she thinks was the Phantom. Rebeccas isn't trying to rule the world she is just a misguided woman with a lot of power that she doesn't want to relinquish. Kits' mentor in the show is a depressed, self-hating introvert who doesn't want to live anymore. These are but a few examples as the show is just full of really interesting characters who have some very tangled relationships with each other. This is some really heady stuff that you just don't see in kids' shows these days and it feels good to say that the game also taps into this richness albeit somewhat stunted. So lets talk about the game.
In the game you are not just thrust into the world and just start wrecking shit up like say Contra. You actually have a goal in mind that makes sense in the context of the world. Maximum Inc. is looking for the last Black Panther on earth but the Phantom is not just going to let them take it. The player must traverse multiple locales hunting for it. This setup leads to some interesting ideas. For one the panther isn't being used for some ultra nefarious plot, he is wanted by Rebecca to revive her dead husband (Yeah don't ask me). The game then proceeds to present the character with some slightly morally ambiguous choices. You the player can leave the panther in the jungle and hope it isn't found or you can hand it over to a shady man by the name of Mr. Cairo in exchanfe for the whereabouts of you're kidnapped friend. Oh and let me tell you how refreshing it is to not see a little bar pop up when you make said choices. No the game is content in acknowledging you as something with a brain and the game takes you on your nexrt destination depending on the choice.
So where does the metroid play come in? Well for one just study the gameplay for a few seconds.
The Grappling Hook Is Awesome
The Phantom sprite looks reminiscent of the life-like rendering of Samus. It doesn't have that chibi style of body proportions that dominated a lot of sprite games and that definitely looks like the spin jump that Samus does. The game features many hidden unlockables and powerups, unlike Super Metroid though these are optional though they are not after thoughts. The game features many sub plots the player can address such as stopping a missile aimed at a suburban community or the deranged psychopath who has a vendetta against you. People might lament the fact that it is not just one giant world where you are left alone and that is understandable, The game is going for something different. Many games have featured choice before this but it is a feeling of immense satisfaction seeing the multiple locales you visit because of the choices you make. You might have noticed that nowadays linearity is a no-no and devs try to make up words to convince gamers that their game isn't linear by using dubious phrases such as wide-linearity. I'm not badmouthing this approach to game design it is just interesting that a game no one cared about based on a license no one cared about did this multiple paths idea in 94'. You might have noticed also that you can return to areas to access places you couldn't before, a staple of the genre. Combat is done through various means such as shooting, melee or the variety of unique weapons you acquire. The bosses are decent. One of them resembles a french guy who floats around the stage as you grapple above a bottomless pit firing rounds at his silly goattee. Overall this game is just so fun to fool around in. The core gameplay is really well done and all the meta on top of that such as music, plot, setting and exploration put this game above the many titles for the SNES. So this is my first blog post and I want to tell you that I appreciate you reading it. Feedback is of course welcome. I know in this day and age where people non-ironically catalog He-Man plot points it is hard to find something truly unknown and so I'm sure some readers already know of this game. But, I hope I have shown of something to someone out there. I wrote this blog in i'd say about 45 minutes so It is a bit disorganized and rambly or something so if you would like to provide feed back then that is great. I hope to establish a formula as this will be a multi-part series. I hope I improve next week ad am able to find an overlooked game in my collection. Again, thanks for reading, take us out Cobra Commander.