REVIEW – Phoenix (Amstar Electronics, 1980)

Phoenix’ is a fixed shooter video game which was developed by Amstar Electronics. It was released world-wide by Taito (licensed by Centuri in the US) in 1980. It follows a similar outer space-themed environment to ‘Galaxian‘ (released a year earlier) but adds some interesting additions such as different play fields and a boss battle.. ..indeed, ‘Phoenix’ has been credited with establishing boss endings in video games.

Phoenix title screen

‘Phoenix’ attract screen, arcade version

Phoenix’ gets its name from the location of Amstar’s factory, which was in Phoenix, Arizona. Little seems to be known about the company and it appears to have only lasted for a short period of time.. ..’Phoenix’ was the only arcade game they ever produced.

You control a spaceship that has horizontal movement at the bottom of the screen, firing upward. As the title suggests, your enemies are different types of alien birds. There are primarily two types of avian enemies which appear in formations above your ship, shooting at you and periodically diving bombing you and attempting to kill you with kamikaze tactics.

You can equip yourself with a force-field which shields you from enemy fire and their attempts to crash into you. However, you cannot move whilst your shield is active and must wait c. two seconds for it to deactivate.. ..you then have to wait a further c. five seconds before being able to use it again.

You start with either three or six lives, depending on the DIP switch settings.


Each level has five separate stages. The player must complete a stage to advance to the next:

Stages 1 & 2 – These are the stages that are highly reminiscent of ‘Galaxian’ – you must destroy formations of alien birds, some of which will fly down kamikaze style, in an attempt to destroy your ship by crashing into it. If you successfully hit a bird flying diagonally towards you, you are awarded a bonus. Birds are yellow in round 1, pink in round 2. The speed pf the game and rate of fire increase for stage 2, where the birds also fly somewhat more unpredictably.

Phoenix stage 2

‘Phoenix’ stage 2, arcade version


Stages 3 & 4 – Flying eggs float in formation on the screen and seconds later hatch, revealing larger alien birds, resembling phoenices, which swoop down at the player’s spaceship. The only way to fully destroy these birds is to hit their bodies; shooting one of its wings merely destroys that wing and if both wings are destroyed, they regenerate. From time to time the birds may also revert to an egg for a brief period. The birds are blue in stage 3, pink in stage 4.

Phoenix stage 3

‘Phoenix’ stage 4, arcade version

On these stages you can also achieve a massive bonus in you are quick.. ..as the birds are flying away from you in a diagonal direction, spreading their wings, shoot three within c. three seconds for a 200,000 point bonus. Normally, they only score 200 points each.  The easiest stage to do this on is stage 4 as you are able to fire more rapidly.


Stage 5 – The final stage where you have to destroy the alien mothership, at the center of which is an alien. To complete this stage, you have to first create a hole in the conveyor belt-type shield to get a clear shot at the alien. Hitting the alien with a single shot then ends the level. The mothership fires missiles at the player, whilst moving slowly down the screen towards you. There are also alien birds (from stages 1 and 2) protecting the mothership. Defeating all of the birds will simply produce a new wave.

Phoenix stage 5

‘Phoenix’ stage 5, arcade version

Subsequent levels continue with increasing speed and unpredictability of the birds attack patterns.


There are two pieces of music featured in the game – ‘Romance de Amor’ also known as ‘Spanish Romance’ by an unknown composer and ‘Für Elise’ by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Phoenix flyer

Front and back of a flyer from Centuri

The ‘Phoenix’ PCB is, predictably, quite simple consisting of an Intel 8085 CPU running at 5.5 MHz with the audio being created via a Matsushita MN6221AA chip. The video controller circuitry was discrete, utilising multiple EPROMs and bipolar PROMs.

Phoenix PCB

The ‘Phoenix’ PCB

Phoenix‘ uses a unique wiring harness, which isn’t known to be compatible with any other games.

Most ‘Phoenix’ machines were released in a standard Centuri woodgrain cabinet, but several other cabinets exist, due to the game being sold by multiple companies at the same time. ‘Phoenix’ arcade machines typically did not have joysticks; the control panel being made up entirely of buttons.. ..with exception of the Italian made model and some cocktail versions.

Phoenix arcade cabinet

‘Phoenix‘ arcade cabinet

Phoenix‘ was available in both upright and cocktail cabinets. A DIP switch setting allows the game to be moved between these two formats.

Phoenix wall mount

Unusual European wall mount version

There were also some rare wall mounted versions produced for some of the European markets.

Atari gained the rights to produce a version for the Atari 2600 in 1982. Imagic produced a similar game called ‘Demon Attack’ and were subsequently sued by Atari, later settling out of court.

Taito appears to currently hold the worldwide rights to the game. In 2005 ‘Phoenix’ was released on the Microsoft XboxSony PlayStation 2, Sony PSP and the PC as part of ‘Taito Legends in the US and Europe, and ‘Taito Memories II Gekan‘ in Japan.

A pretty good clone was produced for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum entitled ‘Pheenix’; developed by Martin W. Ward and published by Megadodo Software in 1983.

Perfect emulation is available via MAME if you own the original ROMs.

Retrollection recommendation?

This is a great fun, a classic shooter that keeps you coming back for more.. ..’Phoenix‘ won’t last you long, but is superb whilst it lasts.. ..I like to keep the PSP version handy for quick fixes!

Pheenix title

‘Pheenix’ on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Also check out ‘Pheenix‘ on the ZX Spectrum, whilst visually not a patch on the arcade version, it is a really good clone that works remarkably well.. ..you almost get that ‘arcade feeling’!


CC logo Fair use ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Taito’ are registered trademarks
‘Phoenix’ ™& © 1980 TAITO Corp., All Rights Reserved
Page layout, content & design © 2015 Retrollection.net; please refer to the terms and conditions 

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