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Phantasia II: A Classic Formula Improved

 
The Slacker's Guide - Phantasia II: A Classic Formula Improved

by
February 9th, 2007

31 years ago, Steve Wozniak, at the behest of Steve Jobs, designed the game Breakout in four days with the added goal of reducing the number of transistor-transistor logic chips present in an Atari board design. Somewhere in the course of this, he gave birth to an incredibly fun game genre.

Phantasia II by Rake In Grass is the next step up for this kind of game. Based on classic brick-and-bat gameplay, while incorporating modern graphics, power-ups galore, terrific sound, multiple game modes and new elements, the title proves that both new life and new ideas can be breathed into a game style that's had more than its share of clones and successors.

Based on a fantasy setting, players must fight their way through multiple levels of a tower to rescue dwarves that have been captured by a wizard. Not the most original story line in the world, but it's functional and keeps the game going.


Clearing out a row in Rake in Grass' Phantasia II.

The joy of the title arrives in its gameplay. Rake In Grass did its homework and realized that they were working with a veteran genre to say the least. It would have been easy to wrap a standard shareware game around the classic Breakout style and have it claim a certain amount of attention, yet wind up melting into the background of games that have done the same. Phantasia II actually takes the original idea and makes it better. Amazing graphics, good sound, highly amusing in-game jokes, digitized screams of falling dwarves and an excellent use of color help make the game appealing while some genuinely new ideas add to the title.

First and foremost, Phantasia II is a color-matching game. Fire the ball up towards a layer of bricks and it'll turn to match that color. Hit the same color of bricks again off the rebound and a chain reaction will occur, taking out nearby identically colored bricks. Hit a different color of brick and you'll be able to wipe out that brick, but only a single brick will be wiped out and the ball will change into the color of the brick it just hit. It's this underlying principle that guides the game. From there, the rest is wide open.

Play the game correctly and almost anything can happen. Power-ups and power-downs practically rain down on the player amid explosions and falling dwarves that have been freed via burst bubbles and destroyed bricks, the game's flashing lights making the player focus on which power-ups to grab and which power-downs to avoid. Once grabbed, a power-up can allow a player to fire bombs at the remaining bricks, spawn multiple balls to clear the level with, create a fireball to launch, provide additional lives, etc. Power-downs can freeze the player's paddle, shrink the paddle and reduce the overall score. A level is cleared once the player has freed a requisite number of trapped dwarves.

It's the small things that make this game work. A ball's ricochet angle can be adjusted on the fly by clicking the left or right mouse button to change the angle of the paddle and thus open more directions to hit it in rather than hope for the right angle with brick and paddle games of yesteryear.

Three different game modes (Classic, ArcaMania and Bust-a-Move style) keep things interesting, and the game's 90 levels (30 for each of the three play modes) are fun to tinker with for both short and long term game sessions. Finally, Phantasia II's automatic game save allows players to come back to previously played levels without having to work back to where they were. This combined with an increasingly fast game pace allows for a nice blend of arcade action with the benefits of a console or desktop-based video game.


Bust-a-Move style gameplay helps fire at specific targets.

Phantasia II is available for US$19.95 and requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later and a 1 GHz G4, G5 or Intel-based processor to run. The game is a 19.5 megabyte download that expands to occupy 25.6 megabytes of hard drive space and is a universal binary and runs natively on both PowerPC and Intel-based hardware. Unfortunately, once the game's trial hour is up, the title will quit as it's running and fly up the nag screen to either quit or pay the registration fee. Still, Rake In Grass has worked hard on this and it shows, standing as one of my favorite games of late.

Finally, this is the last Slacker's Guide column I'm writing for The Mac Observer. I will, however, be pounding out bi-weekly game reviews for the site and giving the marquee releases that come the Mac's way either their fair due or outright criticism where deserved.

For final thoughts, I'm going to leave you with this:

  • The Macintosh platform is in a better state than it has been in years, especially in terms of market share, product, interest in Apple and items due to hit the shelves. This is the best we could hope for with a community that supports the people within it. As such, Macintosh gaming, especially on the shareware level, is in one of the best positions it's ever been. If you're playing something and enjoy it, register the product or at least drop a helpful comment the developer's way. And if you or a few friends have an idea for a game, get it out there, especially on VersionTracker, MacUpdate or MacGameFiles.com. And for you mod fans, few sites are as lovingly updated as Macologist.org.

  • If you have an Intel-based Mac, give Boot Camp a chance. Apple has put out something extraordinary and even in its beta stages, the performance has been better than I could have hoped for. After tossing an additional gigabyte of RAM into my Mac Pro, Windows games run like a dream and it's been cool to be able to tinker with bleeding edge stuff rather than wait for a sufficient marquee title to be ported to the Mac. Apple's charging $29 for the software once Mac OS X 10.5 hits may not be the friendliest thing they've ever done for their user base, but they have something that works well here and that can't be denied.

  • Open source projects may not save the world, but they do make for some cool software. If you're interested in a project, ask to participate as a beta tester (e-mailing the company will usually do the trick). Keep in touch, report back on the newest builds and you can make sure your opinion is voiced to the developers themselves rather than firing a random e-mail to the black hole/support account of an established company. These are people who care about software to the same degree as you do. And if you ever doubted the power of feedback, blend Firefox into your daily browsing habits, check the history and timeline of the project and remember that the community can change things when it makes the effort.

  • Finally, stay in touch. I realize that e-mail gets sifted, filtered and lost and one of these days I'm actually going to purchase SpamSieve and give Apple Mail's spam filter the long walk off a short pier to romantically spoon cuddle an octopus it truly deserves. If you have any ideas, comments or feedback, hit me up on AIM/iChat (the handle is "PoingFerret") and I'll be more than happy to talk about anything that's on your mind.

That wraps it up and I'll see you guys in two weeks with a full-on review of the long-anticipated port of Prey for the Mac.

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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