Green Phoenix

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Zerouno Games
Developer: Broken Simulation
Release Date: May 27, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Green Phoenix'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 14, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Green Phoenix is an on-rails 3D space shooter mixed with a deep narrative experience that focuses on the concept of ego and the meaning of freedom.

At a time when the shoot-'em-up genre was king, the behind-the-vehicle, on-rails sub-genre was impressive, since it gave a great impression of what it would be like in the cockpit of a craft. You had a good mix of classics like After Burner, Galaxy Force II, and StarFox, along with some clunkers like Total Eclipse, but they all adhered to the mantra of having lots of things to shoot, so the action was always intense. Green Phoenix tries to do something different and ambitious, but despite its namesake, the game does not rise from the ashes.

On paper, the story seems typical for the genre. You play the role of the Green Phoenix, a ship run by AI. After your pilot Dana dies, you gain emotion and go off on a journey of revenge against SCyMo, the corporation that's responsible for your creation and Dana's indentured servitude. What makes this different from other shooters is how the game sticks with it, conveying the company's many atrocities against their own people. That narrative is conveyed in-game by your ship's AI in one-way conversations, not in cut scenes.

In practice, none of this works well. Part of it is because the story has been told copiously in sci-fi tales over the decades. Whether it's because it has been used as a backdrop for so long or that we've been desensitized to corporations doing anything for profit, the tale of AI avenging someone's death due to corporate greed doesn't seem to be too compelling. Another reason why the story doesn't hit that well is because of its presentation. The monotonous computer voice is fine, but its volume comes in low compared to the effects, so it's very easy to miss what's being said due to gunfire drowning out the dialogue. The game uses subtitles to display the dialogue, but they're easy to miss if you're paying attention to the action. Normally, this sort of thing isn't harped upon in reviews, but considering how the developers have pegged the story as a big part of the game, the failure to make the narrative compelling and understandable is a significant shortcoming.

The story can only derail a shooter if the gameplay isn't executed very well. The balance is thrown off in the game's scant four levels as far as user activities go. While you'll always be dodging something, the first level features no enemies at all. The second level only features mines, and this is where you'll discover that you can die after receiving three consecutive hits. Regeneration of an invisible meter means that you can live through all of that if the hits are spaced out. The third level adds turrets, while the final stage throws all of this together and finally introduces a boss fight. Even with all of this present, there are very long stretches where there's nothing to shoot at, so Green Phoenix lacks the adrenaline on which the genre usually thrives.

The lack of enemy variety is appalling, but it lines up with your own lack of abilities. You have one rapid-fire gun in your arsenal, but don't expect to pick up different weapons or power-ups. There are no defensive maneuvers at your disposal, and the crystals you acquire from fallen enemies serve more as points rather than something significant to gameplay.

The aiming reticle confirms the poor quality of the shooting. When you think about the behind-the-back, on-rails shooters over the course of the last few decades, one thing almost all of them had in common was a reticle that gave you a great idea of where your shots would land. There's none of that here, so while some of your shots fire directly in front of you, others may veer off above or below where you fired. It's a complete guessing game, and even when there aren't too many things to hit on-screen, it's just bad to guess where your shot is going.

For those looking for more to the game beyond the campaign, the only other mode on offer is Arcade mode, which is available once the campaign has been completed. The name is a bit deceptive, as it is really a survival mode to see how far you can go before dying. If you can deal with the shooting mechanics, then you'll enjoy this for a while, but don't expect to make return visits unless you want to reach the top of the sparsely populated leaderboard.

There are a few positives to Green Phoenix. The simplified control scheme, with ship movement mapped to both analog sticks and all of the triggers being used for shooting your lone weapon in a rapid-fire fashion, makes it so that you can effectively play the game with one Joy-Con in one hand. While the game's draw distance isn't too impressive, the environments look rather nice thanks to the vast differences between them. From the deserted cities to the SCyMo factory, it looks quite good both in docked and portable modes.

Green Phoenix aims to serve two distinct audiences but succeeds at pleasing neither. Shooter fans will hate almost everything about it, from the lack of proper aiming to the lack of enemies. Fans of deep narratives will find the story to be derivative and uninspiring and will hate that it is told so poorly. It may look pretty, but there's no real reason to give this a shot.

Score: 3.5/10

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