I had not heard of Phoenix during the original Atari era. That’s a shame, because it really is a great game, one that I would have loved back then. Phoenix is a top-down verticle outer space shooter. Your space figher moves from left and right at the bottom of the screen and shoots at aliens/alien craft that move above in the rest of the screen. that makes it a lot like Space Invaders and Galaga and lots of others. Some have even called it a knock-off of Space Invaders and Galaga. It has a few things, though, that those games did not:
Shields – you can shield your ship for a brief amount of time. In the Atari version, this shield is activated by pulling down on the joystick. This surrounds your vessel with an six-sided white ring that protects you not only for enemy fire but from enemy collision as well. Unfortunately, you can’t move while shielded, but that shield still comes in handy.
A boss – there are five levels to the Atari version of Phoenix: 2 in which you shoot small aliens, two in which you shoot larger aliens (and have to shoot them right in the middle else you’ll only shoot their wings off and they’ll grow back), and then one when you fight a boss. That’s right. A boss fight on the 2600. And it is a good boss, too, a huge spaceship that drops down to an imminent collision a la Space Invaders. You must blast through the thick body of the ship (kind of like Yar’s Revenge), then through rotating shield (kind of like Breakout), and then finally shoot the pilot inside. If you do this, you are rewarded with…well, nothing. The game just starts over. But it was cool while it lasted.
Other cool things about Phoenix include the color palatte and alien design, both of which reminded me of Metroid, and the sound effects, which are not great but still serviceable. All in all, Phoenix wasn’t unique; it had a lot of elements of other games. And I never really understood the bird motif of the box and cartridge art. The aliens didn’t really look bird-like to me. I never would have suspected they were bird-like apart from that art. But it is still good. Very good.