Going into Majesco’s newest strategy game I didn’t quite know what to think, on one hand the cover art promised a game that is “unlike anything else on the Xbox”, but at $20 I had my doubts on the quality. But there was no need for me to worry as Phantom Dust is not only a rare gem, but it’s one of the best games of its type currently available for any system … all for a mere $20.
The game starts out with an intriguing premise. A mysterious dust has covered the planet causing all of humanity to lose their memories and forcing the survivors underground. Here these survivors travel to the surface to collect information on the dust, the new life forms that have taken over, and how they can improve their living conditions. One day the search team comes across a couple of escape pods, each containing very sick looking men. Like everybody else, these two characters have no recollection of what happened to them, but there’s something special about them that the others can’t put their finger on.
Edgar is a rough character who is in search of a girl he’s seen in a picture, he doesn’t know who she is, but knows that she has something to do with the mystery. And then there’s your character, a figure that has to be the ugliest human being I have ever seen in a video game. With his bright yellow 1980’s jacket, a haircut nobody would want, and one of the worst shaped faces of all time, your main character doesn’t have a lot going for him.
Thankfully there’s a lot more to this game than just a hideously ugly lead character. The game has a lot in common with a lot of Magic: the Gathering-style card games; but you might not see the connection at first. Instead of cards you have bright, glowing spheres, each with their own pros and cons. Three of these spheres generate at the start of the match, and every time you pick one up another one will take its place in random succession.
Unlike most strategy games, Phantom Dust happens in real time as opposed to being turn based. It means that you are in charge of everything from dodging, to attacking, to navigating around the level all at the same time. You can only hold four spheres at any one time (one for each of the Xbox’s four main face buttons), so you are forced to choose which skills are important to you. Since the spheres regenerate in random order, you frequently have no choice but to toss some skills in order to spawn others. All this is happening while you are worrying about the enemy’s attacks, your partner’s life, and finishing all of the tasks in the level.
Phantom Dust’s game play takes a few rounds to fully understand, but before too long (and after a rather lengthy tutorial process) you will understand how to use your skills, how to fill up your deck, and how to barter with the local salesman. After you’ve mastered the basics, the rest is pretty straight forward and easy to work with. You spend most of your time underground in a small, cramped area. It’s a pretty bleak locale, with only a few rooms and not a lot of people to talk to. The various people underground have their own reasons for sending you up to the dusty surface, most of the time it has to do with some sort of research or to retrieve a memory box (items that will eventually reveal the full truth behind the game’s mysterious premise).
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