No matter how creative the enemies are or how beautiful the graphics are, the main quality that players will sometimes be looking for in a 2D side-scroller is the level design. And while they may not exactly be aware of it, the level design will always make or break a game in terms of player experience. After all, you can’t simply have multiple levels with different kinds of set dressing on it and pass it off as a great level design if all levels are simply the same in terms of layout.
Fortunately for us, Phantom Gear is excellent in that aspect. Each level brings a unique aesthetic to it that fits the world while also bringing in unique mechanics for each of them. So join Josephine in her quest to recover a piece of the Artifact stolen by the Ocular Force across multiple levels of smooth gameplay and frantic combat.
Before heading on to specifics for each level, there are a couple of key things that will be equally true for almost all of them. Phantom Gear's levels are designed to be one big level split into multiple sections. It follows a checkpoint system, and whenever you die, you will be simply transported to the last checkpoint you reached. As with most platformers made for the Sega Genesis, you only have a limited number of lives, and if you run out of them, you’d have to start the entire game over. A way to take this down a notch is that the levels with some of the more difficult sections will contain an extra life. These extra life pickups also respawn whenever you die, which also means that you effectively get unlimited lives if you choose to always try and pick them up.
Aside from checkpoints, there are also various shops strewn across the levels, allowing you to spend your hard-earned green orbs to upgrade your abilities, give you extra lives, or equip different weapons. Some of these shops contain extra juicy stuff, but they are located on alternate routes within the level, so be on the lookout for these routes!
With those out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of each level. There are eight levels in the game, and while this may seem low in number, remember that each level is one huge linear track that is split into multiple sections. This means that the actual game length would be longer than the eight levels that Phantom Gear presents you with.
The first level that we’ll encounter is City Lab, and this is where Josephine’s journey begins. This level mostly aims to introduce the player to how Phantom Gear works, introducing you to the different enemies and obstacles within the world and showing you just how maneuverable Josephine is.
Next, we have the Under City Cave, the source of the city’s power by way of geothermal energy. This is essentially a magma-filled level with plenty of lava-based obstacles along the way. And for a person like Josephine, her augments can only carry her so far when it comes to the heat inside the cave.
Valley Forest is the third level, which is the staple greenery level that consists of multiple robotic animals, influenced by the Ocular Force. A bit of foreshadowing here but there’s a huge surprise waiting for you when you reach the end of the level. You better gear up!
The first level that provides a break from all the jumping and shooting, Blast Journey has Josephine taking to the skies, riding a missile towards her next destination. A homage to the retro side-scrolling shooters, Josephine must be able to survive the onslaught of flying enemies that this level spawns to survive the trip.
A platformer wouldn’t be complete without an ice level, and Phantom Gear is no exception. The Snowy Mines contains all the usual trappings of an ice level, with plenty of slippery floors and harsh snowstorms.
Another auto-scrolling level, but this time, Josephine is grounded. Hot Pursuit sees her on a motorcycle chasing a train owned by the Ocular Force. Naturally, there will be plenty of shooting involved, and it’s your job to dodge bullets from enemies while dishing out your version of pain to them.
Fallen City is a glimpse of what would happen to other cities in the world if the Ocular Force is left unchecked. With plenty of failed experiments and junk from the factories of the Force, it elevates the Ocular Force from a bunch of random grunts wearing masks to a legitimate threat to Josephine’s world.
The atmosphere set by Fallen City is perfect for the game’s penultimate level because once you enter Ocular Force Headquarters, there’s no going back. The final level of the game will test all of the skills that you acquired throughout the game. And seeing as this is the final level, you better be prepared for the final boss as well.
With all this information in tow, it’s ultimately up to you how you would tackle the dangers strewn across each level. Whether you choose to blast through enemies haphazardly or take a more careful approach, at the end of the day, it is Josephine's mission to recover the stolen piece of the Artifact and put an end to the Ocular Force’s dreams of world domination once and for all.
If screenshots and a little bit of blurb won’t do for you and would love to see most of these levels in action, fear not, because you can head on over to Phantom Gear’s Kickstarter page to download a demo. And if you feel like the demo wouldn’t be enough for you to experience the lightning-fast frenzy of the game, the full game will be available soon, and pre-ordering it would be a great idea. Check out the game's Steam page and put it on your wish list! Join our Discord for discussion, news, and updates!