Everyone is scared of something

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TELL me about your childhood. Did you tease your mother? Did your cat tease you? The answers to these and other questions will probably not be answered by playing Phobia.

But if you have any deep-seated illogical fears about ice cubes or spiders, be prepared to have them exposed before your peers.

Here is the plot: a bad guy has kidnapped someone important and is holding him for ransom on the surface of the Sun. In order to prevent anyone (you) from liberating them he has converted all the planets in between into a realisation of Dante's worst nightmares, populating them with the kind of things people are most scared of.

All the big phobias are represented, although my personal phobia, baldygitophobia, does not seem to be present.

The game takes the form of a sort of Scramble affair, piloting your craft through a scrolling landscape of the fears of your choice. On the Arachland planet you come across lots of spiders weavering webs and shooting at you. Believe me, if a teensy weensy garden spider scares you, then a 100 ft high mutated monster spitting molten death at you will send you catatonic.

As custom dictates, at the end of every level there is an even more horrendously mutated beast to eradicate. Little Miss Muffet watch out.

The thing that impresses me the most is that all the different planets are not the same with new sprites loaded in, but vary considerably in their structure. This makes it a thrill to progress to each new level and seek out strange new life forms.

People who were scared by Hitchcock's The Birds should steer clear of Ornitholand, as it is very reminiscent of the great man's masterpiece. It is funny, too - all the birds line up on telegraph wires to take shots at you.

As certain baddies are despatched to their resting grounds they leave behind them power-ups which oddly enough, increase the power and death-dealing efficiency of your weapons. If you go on a mercy mission to an infested moon, you can pick up small orbs enabling you to run the gauntlet of the spaceways between the planets. They also give you extra firepower, lending the game a sort of R-Type look.

Gameplay is strong and fierce: auto-fire is definitely recommended. Phobia is structured to have a large strategy element to it. You can chose your own route through the solar system, thus avoiding any planet you feel too loathsome, but watch out for the evil armies of Phobos approaching from the other direction, seeking to cut off your route.

One of the stranger options is the hi-res mode. Yes, it does turn the interlace mode on giving extra high definition graphics, but it also cuts the play area to a minute fraction of the screen so you cannot see what is going on.

The only possible criticism of the game is that it is terribly difficult. For experts like myself there is a "silly mode" which makes it even more impossible.

Overall, a game that strikes a rare balance between playability and impossibility, providing entertainment which gives it a long lifespan. Real value for money.


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IMAGE WORKS £24.99 * Joystick or Keyboard

A galactic President's lot is not a happy one at the best of times, but when your daughter goes and gets herself kidnapped by the evil Lord Phobos, Master of Fear, it can ruin your whole day. Still, there must be somebody out there brave, courageous and foolish enough to make a rescue attempt. No?

Erm... all right, you'll do. Lord Phoby has stashed his captive on the Sun and, because he's a smart chappie, he's realised that a rescue attempt will be made and has designed a series of worlds that must be passed through by any prospective hero before he gains access to the Sun. These worlds are slightly out of the ordinary in that everyone is fashioned on common human phobias, from spiders and other creepy crawlies to flying insects and dentists.

Guess what? It's a shoot-'em-up where all the nasties are really nasty. Not only must you struggle through the planets and collect nine shields that allow protection from the Sun's heat, but Lord Phobos has sent out his Sun Troops who try to cut you off by building Light Barriers between worlds that will destroy any ships passing through.

The only way to counter this is to go to a moon round a planet and pick up a drone which you can sacrifice in a Light Barrier: unfortunately, not all the moons are accessible, so you'll have to plan your route carefully. Suppose you do pick up a drone and then go to the planet proper, you'll find that by shooting the various aliens and ground installations they leave behind pods which increase your fire power when collected: so your drone can shoot too, which makes things a lot easier.

As you fly along the horizontally-scrolling planets, you'll notice small, round Key Generators which need to be destroyed as you progress, because they power a shield at the end of each system which protects the world's end-of-level guardian.

Shoot-'em-ups don't come much tougher than Phobia, and you'll be thankful it has a two-player option. But it's just a shoot-'em-up and, though it's as good as most and despite a few nice touches, is not one of the best.


GRAPHICS AND SOUND

Some nice Copper Listing (thanks Tech Ed, for the enlightenment) and other effects including the novel screen mode switch between Hi and Lo Res are all very clever, though the sound effects leave a little to be desired. Nicely done but nothing spectacular once the novelty of the aliens has worn off.

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Mirrorsoft
AMIGA

Phobia on the Amiga does not measure up to its predecessor on the 64, unfortunatel. It is a horizontally scrolling shoot em up, and the scrolling is fine, the screen colourful, but there is simply too much going on at once on the screen. At times it is impossible to get through a wave of aliens, as there are so many, in addition to bullets, bombs and missiles all aimed squarely at your ship. A difficult game is fair enough, but this is crazy. Sound is about average, which pretty much sums up the rest of the game.


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Imageworks, Amiga £19.99

The 64 version blasted its way onto the cover of the July issue and in the Amiga version, again by Tony Crowther, the plot is identical. The evil Phobos has trapped the Galactic Emperor in a sun and put 15 planets between him and the one or two space fighters willing to save him.

Each planet is infested with nightmares and phobias aplenty: spiders, enclosed spaces, snakes, dentists and Death himself. There's also a large mother alien at the end of each level (where else?).

Conquer a planet and it's off to see the sights in narrow underground caverns before jetting off to deepest space and beyond to more planets with even worse fears.


Phil King Personally I'm not too fond of spiders so seeing them come to life brings a shiver down my spine, even if the Amiga doesn't quite go to town creating a dark, organic atmosphere. Two-player shoot-'em-ups are always fun and on this note Phobia delivers. It's nice to see some variety in the levels to blast through, not only graphically but in gameplay as well with planets, caverns, and deep space - all nicely done too.
Robin Hogg Phobia on the 64 proved one good looking, highly playable blast and the Amiga version had the potential to do likewise but in even better style. The graphics are certainly detailed and everything is larger than life. But the simple parallax scrolling is unimpressive and the colour scheme isn't subtle enough to create the nightmarish atmosphere needed - it all looks garish and hardly frightening. Thankfully it's all very playable R-Type-ish shoot-'em-up fare, but not one to turn you into a nervous wreck.