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.