In this new series of articles, ChronicleChamber.com will be looking at some of the most interesting, desirable and phantastic of Phantom collectables. For this first addition of Treasure Room, JoeMD indulges his love for both retro video games and Phantom 2040 and takes a look at the Phantom’s last digital outing.
Phantom 2040 leaves behind it a bitter-sweet legacy that is all too common in American-created animation. A well devised series full of memorable moments and creative greatness that assumed a cult following cut off in its prime leaving fans to dream of what could have been. The Phantom 2040 series lasted only two seasons before its cancellation but within its time inspired a good deal of merchandise from apparel to toys and, of course, a video game.
Released in 1995 on the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis for any Americans reading), the Sega Game Gear and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) towards the end of the 16-bit era the Phantom 2040 (referred to as simply ‘2040′ herein) video game is something of an overlooked gem among Phantom and retro game collectors alike.
Of the three system releases the Mega Drive and SNES versions are pretty much identical, save for some small graphical differences such as extra lives appearing as ’1-Up’ icons in the Mega Drive versions and little Phantom faces on the SNES. Both versions employ a gameplay style that focuses on run-and-gun action with a strong emphasis on exploration. Enemies come thick and fast but luckily the Phantom can find many weapons throughout the game’s various levels and all of these can be upgraded. Some enemies are more seseptable to different kinds of weapons while bosses will shake off some weapons all together. As mentioned exploration is a big part of the game with the vast levels hiding many secrets. These can range from hidden extra lives and weapons to secret paths to later levels. These paths not only give you a glimpse of what you might be coming up against during the game but often they will lead to secret switches that will open areas of that later level you wouldn’t be able to get to normally. The game’s enemies, however, are something of a mixed bag. While they are all wonderfully realised with smooth animation there just isn’t a great variety. This, however, can be leveled at the game’s source material. The main ‘thug’ in the 2040 TV-series was the BIOT, robots created by the evil Maximum corporation. BIOTs make up the main host of enemies you’ll face in the game too, but as they all look the same in the cartoon (being robots and all) they do here as well with only colour variation to differentiate between regular and stronger BIOTs. While there are other enemies in the game such as street thugs and mutated monstrosities where the game really shines is with its bosses. These encounters often see the Phantom facing off against some bio-mechanical beast that dwarfs the Phantom and has multipul weak points that must be attacked to put the monster down. Very satisfying to fight and eventually defeat, these encounters are often the best remembered of the game.
As for the Phantom himself, his sprite is wonderfully detailed and animated, never seeping into the background which could have been possible if a lesser artist had tackled the game. As it is, the Phantom is a joy to control with tight, responsive controls and a host of abilities ranging from the standard run/jump/shoot to moves that aren’t listed in the manual such as the ability to carry a BIOT and use it as a temporary shield. As well as this the sheer host of weapons that can be collected throughout the game – over 20 – is astounding, ensuring that you’ll not see them all in your first play through. The Phantom can weild any two weapons at a time (three if you’re playing on the SNES or have the 6-button controller for the Mega Drive, as one button is always bound to the Inductance Rope, ) and, as previously mentioned, all of these can be upgraded.
The aspect that really sets 2040 aside from other games, however, is choice. While this may not seem remarkable in a world that has seen titles such as Deus Ex and Dragon Age, for a game’s story to hinge so tightly on player’s choice in 1995 was a big thing. Constantly throughout 2040 the player is presented with a difficult choice that has to be made. Do you hand over the last of an endangered species to a shady double agent in exchange for information or do you let the animal run free in the Ghost Jungle but risk entering into great danger in your next mission? The first level sees the Metropia University attacked and destroyed and you are presented with the choice of either going after the attackers to find out who they are and what they want or venturing into the demolished University to help any survivors. Such choices are everywhere in 2040 and ultimately what you choose will effect the ending of the game. This gives the game up to 20 possible endings, only a handful of which result in positive outcomes. However, some have criticized the game as they feel it’s too hard to know exactly what choices will lead you to a positive outcome.
So why should 2040 be of interest to Phantom collectors? Most obviously, 2040 is only one of three video games to ever have featured the Ghost Who Walks, the others being the 1990 Defenders of the Earth game that appeared on various 8 and 16-BIT personal computers such as the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST and Commodore 64 and a mobile phone game simply called The Phantom. As the last Phantom game to feature a physical release, it’s something of a historical item. Also, given the recent rise in interest of retro games, the title has become desirable to retro game collectors as well as Phantom fans. According to retro gaming website RetroCollect.com‘s Rarity Guide, 2040 is considered Uncommon on the Mega Drive and Rare on the Game Gear. While the site does not give the game a rarity value for the SNES version, it can be assumed that it would be similar to the Mega Drive’s. This rarity of the title is something that may entice phans to track down a copy.
Interestingly, the Mega Drive/ Genesis versions of the game variy by region. In NTSC regions (US, Canada,) players are presented with a full game story complete with cut scenes and animation. In this version’s Options menu players have the choice of viewing either the full or ‘summarised’ plot of the game. Selecting the Summarised option results in the cut scenes and animations being removed and only dot-points summarizing what would have happened in those cut scenes. In PAL territories (Australia, UK) the game inexplicably only delivers the summarised version of the plot with the Full/Summarised Plot option replaced with a Music On/Off option. Given this, the NTSC version is the pick when getting a copy for Sega’s 16-bit console. Regardless of what version you choose to get, collectors should not have too much trouble sourcing a complete game with cartridge, box and manual from eBay.
Sega also released a special edition of the game for the Mega Drive in Australia, most likely due to the character’s popularity here. This edition is what is known as a ‘big box’ edition, so called due to the big cardboard box the game came in. Big box editions were something Sega did towards the end of the 16-bit era for games that they felt would have a large audience in certain countries. These big boxes contained the game as well as bonus items, in the case of 2040 a set of the Phantom Glow Zone stickers and a Phantom keyring. However, given the flimsy nature of cardboard boxes not many have survived so tracking down a good condition copy can be quite the task, especially if you’re wanting one with ALL the contents intact.
While the SNES version of the game could be considered as common as the Mega Drive version it can be hard to source a complete copy in good condition. Like the big box versions on the Mega Drive, SNES games came in flimsy cardboard boxes so it can be hard to find a copy without a torn box. For similar reasons – they also had cardboard boxes – a complete copy of the Game Gear version can be quite tricky to track down. Add to this that the game is considered rare anyway and is also regarded the worst of the three versions there may not be many copies out in the wild. Due to poor graphics and a restrictive difficulty the Game Gear version of 2040 was not well thought of and it is rare to see copies on eBay.
With the 1996 Phantom movie being a commercial flop, the Game Boy Advanced The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks title never seeing release due to its developer going under (who also were working on a Mandrake title for the GBA) and more recent efforts to bring the Phantom to the screen not being successful there is a good chance that 2040 could be the last true Phantom video game. As such it remains an interesting piece of Phantom history, released at a time when the Phantom was arguably experiencing his highest point of popularity since the 1930s and 40s. However, the Phantom 2040 game being the Phantom’s best remembered video game appearance is rather fitting. Like the character it stars, the game builds on that which came before, takes those ideas and does something brilliant with them and paths the way for that which is come.
Phantom 2040 Game Play Video