The Phantom 2040 cartoon series from 1994 is perhaps one of the lesser known Phantom comic character outings, but it stands out as one of the best, thanks to its intelligent plots and bizarre character designs (props to Æon Flux–creator Peter Chung). The show ran for only two seasons, but spawned one of the most undeservedly overlooked platformers of the era, the titular Phantom 2040 for the SNES (which also had versions released on the Genesis and Game Gear systems).
What makes the game stand out? Sure, it has tight controls, unique weapons, and smooth animations ala Flashback, but what else? How about Metroidvania style levels with multiple ways to complete them, and a branching story that leads to differing twists and over 20 unique endings based on how your progress through the game? Yes, 20 endings, and while you may not get them all, you’ll definitely be starting over after completing the game to take that missed pathway, and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on until you simply can’t remember which ones you took and didn’t take.
On it’s surface, the game plays like a smoother Another World crossed with any ol’ platform shooter, letting you blast, jump, and power up your way through the future city of Metropia on a quest to stop corruption and crime. But soon enough you’ll realize that you’re in for more of a Metroid experience, thanks to the Inductance Rope too that lets you scale walls and swing from the ceiling ala Bionic Commando. You’ll be scouting out how to get that difficult-to-reach power up, and you’ll find yourself using the city map between levels to re-visit previous locations to open up more areas thanks to newly acquired items. Speaking of items, while many are weapons, there are some unique ones in there, such as pellets that you can drop to douse local flames. You can build quite a hefty arsenal if you put the time in, and most items are worth playing around with, even if not required to progress.
The story is told through illustrated cut scenes, occasionally launching into animated full-screen affairs that show the wonder of the SNES’s later days. Like the show it’s based on, the game’s story has more variety and flair than most of it’s ilk, and I found myself checking out the Peter Chung-designed weirdos portraits for a while before I even read the next plot reveal.
Where Phantom 2040 succeeds in gameplay, story, atmosphere, and variety, it lets down a little in the sound department. None of the music or effects are overtly terrible, but everything from the digitized shout on a new-game start to the enemies’ explosions seem somehow muted, like a collection of great audio clips were neutered on their way through production into mere adequate fair. The graphics are the opposite, however; while the Phantom and some humanoid enemies seem to stand too erect and walk too stiff-legged, the animations and rendering on everything else is worth studying.
In the end, I can’t recommend Phantom 2040 enough; I’ve beat it, but I haven’t finished playing it, and is there any better compliment you can pay a game?