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Leafing through the original Playstation’s library, one will find a ton of shoot ‘em ups, especially ones that were only released in Japan. On top of this, many of them are really quite good. For fans of the genre, there’s a lot to choose from when it comes to PS1 shmups. That being said, this also makes it easy for decent shoot ‘em ups to slip between the cracks from time to time. One such example of this is Philosoma, a shooter that came out right as the console released. While it was hyped up a fair bit upon release, it eventually got buried under all of the other shmups to hit the PS1 in subsequent years, leaving it as a game that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot these days.

As is often the case with these sort of games, Philosoma is light on story. Basically, a human colony has ceased communication with Earth and any ships that have gone to investigate have disappeared. Now players take control of a rookie member of a fighter squadron sporting fancy new prototype ships who have been sent to see what’s going on. When they get there, they discover alien ships and are attack. Surprise, surprise!

What makes Philosoma interesting is how much the developers fiddled around with perspective throughout the game. Usually a shoot ‘em up will function one way from beginning to end and that’s it. The thing will be a vertical scroller through and through, or it’ll strictly focus on being a side scroller for example. In this game, it did a little bit of everything. Some areas scrolled vertically, others horizontally, and other times it even became a rail shooter. Given that we were at the dawn of polygon visuals becoming much more wide spread in home consoles, there was a lot of enthusiasm among developers to see what they could do with this, and Philosoma is a fine example of the mindset.

It does take time getting used to the shifts in perspectives, as one’s brain becomes accustomed to one only for the game to switch to another a short while later. After playing for a little while, the experience is no longer jarring and players should be able to deal with the changes no problem. It’s not like the perspective change once per stage either, as Philosoma will sometimes switch them multiple times per level. Each of them are straightforward enough, however, and anyone whose played a few shoot ‘em ups and rail shooters should feel right at home. One thing that I found to be a nice little touch is that when the game is a rail shooter there are two different modes. Sometimes the camera will be positioned behind the player’s ship, as is traditional in the genre, with one blasting everything in front of them. However, on top of this, the camera will occasionally be in front of the vessel, with the player being chased by enemies and using a rear-firing gun as a result in order to deal with them.

Unlike a lot of other shmups of the time where weapon systems were switched out simply by flying over specific icons, the ship’s weapon systems in Philosoma are locked in from the start. It has a vulcan spread shot, a laser beam, a charged attack, and the aforementioned rear gun. These can each have their power levels increased by gathering corresponding power-ups that boost a weapon’s level by one for each power-up gathered with each weapon capping at level three. Players need to make sure that their ship is currently using the weapon that they wish to level up while flying over the power-up icon, though. On top of this, a few other icons occasionally appear that grant players more bombs, restore the ship’s shields, and add missile launchers to the vessel.

The game isn’t all that long but it is reasonably challenging. Granted some of this comes from getting used to the shifting perspectives of the game, but there’s also plenty of bullets, ships, asteroids, and the like on screen much of the time, leaving players with a lot to dodge. Also, this is made all that much tougher by one’s ship having a fairly large hit box. Some people may also have trouble seeing some of the tinier bullets from time to time as they can be difficult to spot if one isn’t vigilant. To help take the edge off a bit, the player’s ship can take a few hits before being destroyed and they get three of them before having to continue.

Given that Philosoma came out right around when the PlayStation first released, its graphics are not going to turn a lot of heads the way games released later in the console’s life did. Nonetheless, the visuals are serviceable. Ship designs are interesting and there’s a reasonable variety in environments that players will fly through. Just don’t expect much detail or fancy textures on the screen.

While the PS1’s shoot ‘em up library may sport such heavy hitters as Einhander, R-Type Delta, Thunder Force V, Raystorm, and a slew of others, there are some very nice lesser known entries in the genre gracing the system. Philosoma may not get mentioned a lot, but the game didn’t shy away from experimenting, and for the most part came together as a fun little shooter. Many people may not have heard of it, but it’s an entertaining romp a little bit off the beaten path.

- IroIro
June 21, 2019
Platform: PlayStation
Genre: Shoot 'Em Up
Developer: Epics
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: 1995

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