Even though the Super Nintendo and Genesis both have a number of forgotten gems in their library, Phantom 2040 has to be one of the most under-appreciated games from the 16-bit era. In fact, I was not even aware of its existence until recently. If you enjoy action games with exploration elements such as Metroid and Castlevania, you need to take a serious look at Phantom 2040.
The game is based off of an animated sci-fi TV show from the mid 1990’s that was loosely based on the comic strip hero The Phantom. I would imagine that if you are a fan of the TV show or the comic, you would enjoy this game even more. However, if you are like me and haven’t previously experienced either installments, you will still get a lot out of this game.
Metroid set the standard of having a deep storyline that was traditionally uncharacteristic for action platformers. Phantom 2040 sticks to this formula by pulling a great plot from its comic book roots. The futuristic storyline starts out rather slow (and confusing for people like me who aren’t familiar with the characters), but once things starting building up, you will quickly be pulled in. Within the game there are also about twenty multiple endings which are dependent on the choices you make within the game.
For its place in the SNES/Genesis timeline, Phantom 2040 has some pretty good graphics. The colors and backgrounds bring the sci-fi/comic book feel to the game. The detail of the world map, cut-scenes, and slick menus also add to the level of polish.
The characters are very well designed, but as I eluded to in the gameplay comments, it did seem like the character movements in Phantom 2040 were a bit stiff and could have benefited from a few more frames of animation to really bring them to life.
Some of the levels designs are above average, most with highly-detailed backgrounds. This is more noticeable in the city areas than in most of the building-type areas. Overall Phantom 2040 will impress the 16-bit crowd, but I’ve obviously seen better.
As expected, the Super Nintendo version does have superior graphics, but it isn’t anything drastic. Sometimes I felt that the Genesis’s portrayal of the game felt more suiting, while in other scenes (like certain cut-scenes and boss battles), I could notice the color limitations of the Genesis.
It is amazing what one can do within the audio limitations of 16-bit machines. Phantom 2040 has some surprisingly good musical for such an obscure title. I found myself humming along with them on occasions and the music really ties in with the atmosphere of the story and blends in with the actual surroundings in the game as well. Each chapter of the game has its own distinct melody, along with the three different sets of boss music and opening melody.
The realistic (for the game’s era) explosions heard every time a biot explodes are also fantastic. The music stays quiet when you’re in an area irrelevant to your current objective, but flares up when you’re in the right place (also indicated by the flashing locations on the Metropian Map). The boss music is especially action-packed (with the exception of one track which can admittedly become repetitive).
Gameplay & Controls: 8
Again, if you enjoy the Metroid style of gameplay, you should feel right at home with Phantom 2040. The focus on shooting, jumping, and ducking throughout the game also reminds me a bit of Vectorman. However, as opposed the the pure run-and-gun style of Vectorman, Phantom 2040 requires more exploration throughout and between level in addition to using a rope-like item to grab onto and swing from ledges.
Phantom 2040 also incorporates some of the item and power-up collection elements from other classic games like Metroid and Legend of Zelda. Items includes things such as a Wave Punch, a shield, and the Shadow Panther, which leaps from enemy to enemy and defeats all that it touches. Some weapons are ideal for beating bosses, while others are better for blowing away enemy biots.
Since the powerful weapons require extra energy, you must use them sparingly if you want to succeed. Once Phantom acquires additional weapons and items, you must assign them to a specific controller button at the inventory screen. When battling enemies, you can often use punches and kicks in order to save the good stuff for later.
Collecting items to boost your capabilities definitely motivates you to want to explore the different maps. Unlike the rather repetitive areas in most Metroid games, Phantom 2040 actually has a variety of level designs and backdrops which keep the game from getting stale.
Overall, gameplay is relatively fast-paced and blowing stuff up it quite satisfying. However, I didn’t feel that the movement and control was quite as slick and natural as the later Metroid games.
For the most part, the controls (such as jumping and shooting) feel rather intuitive, but the swinging didn’t react quite the way I expected. The character movement felt a little stiff, so I felt underwhelmed in that regard when comparing it to Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I felt that the Genesis version had slightly more responsive controls. Not anything drastic, but I felt more comfortable on the Genesis.
With the branching paths and multiple endings, you will definitely be tempted to play Phantom 2040 more than once. However, if you are playing the game on the actual system, the password “save” system will definitely get on your nerves. In order to recall all the aspects of your progress, you will have to enter 48 characters into the game to continue. Playing the game on an emulator with save states will make your life much easier.
As an undiscovered gem for both the Genesis and Super Nintendo, you can find a copy online for significantly under $10 which makes for a great impulse buy and a obscure classic to add to your collection. Unfortunately, the Genesis version was only released in the crappy cardboard boxes, so you are in the same boat as the SNES collectors if you want to try to find a gem mint copy.
Shop For SNES Version on eBay / Amazon.com
Shop For Genesis Version on eBay / Amazon.com
While, I think that you will find that both the SNES and Genesis versions of Phantom 2040 are nearly identical, the Super Nintendo, as usual, has slightly more realistic colors but you pretty much have to play them back to back or compare screenshots to notice a whole lot. They sky color and some enemy colors are the only things that stuck my much. (You can see the color and detail differences by viewing the side-by-side screenshot comparison).
The Genesis version also seemed to have some extra cut-scenes and little elements like vehicles placed in the middle of levels where the SNES version did not. Maybe I just missed something in the Super Nintendo version, but I believe the Genesis version does have some extras. None of the extras or limitations really make a huge difference, so I encourage you to jump into the game on whatever platform suits you best unless you are a complete graphics nitpicker.
Phantom 2040 is definitely one of the better action platformers from the 16-bit era, but it doesn’t replace Super Metroid, Vectorman, or the Castevania series as the all-time classics. Instead, Phantom serves as an inexpensive and enjoyable complement to the essentials for those that enjoy the genre.