Combining marital arts-style fighting, magic and online multi-player modes is the hallmark of Iron Phoenix. You're definitely going to need to have Xbox Live or you won't be able to experience the majority of the gameplay features.

In ancient China a meteor fell to Earth amidst a dazzling display of fireworks. A blacksmith came upon a large deposit of iron which he fashioned into nine enchanted weapons including various swords, hammers, spears and staffs. These weapons empower the user with magical attributes making him or her a virtually invincible warrior with new moves and special attacks.

Iron Phoenix is pure action from start to finish. There is no story mode to bog things down. The single-player mode replicates the online fighting by substituting the CPU for real players. It also contains a tutorial mode. There are lots of button commands, especially for the more advanced moves. It's easy to just overlook these moves and try to button mash your way to victory but to do justice to the game you should use the single-player mode as your training ground and become one with the controls.

When you enter into the online Deathmatch mode you'll notice that the majority of players are all grouped in the middle, swinging away like a bunch of girls in a catfight. These are players that obviously didn't learn the finer points of the control system. Trust me there is more to this game than what you might see at first glance. If you avoid the big melee in the center you will encounter one-on-one battles which can be a lot more satisfying and challenging. The only problem is that you have to watch out for kill steals. Some players will watch you fight and then move in to take on the weakened character with a few blows or some Chi magic. It may seem unfair but there's nothing stopping you from doing it if you want to.

Players can protect themselves against kill steals by entering into a Bloodlock agreement which throws a protective shield around the two fighters. The only problem is that the Bloodlock slowly drains your life and the fighters are committed to battling it out to the death.

A number of characters are available for play and although they each have slightly different abilities in terms of agility, attack and defense, they all become super-charged with similar strength and moves. The character you choose is not as important as the weapon that you choose. Most players will likely find one or two weapons that they fancy and will use them for most of the game. While it's totally permissible to button mash you way through the game you will get more out of it if you learn the advanced moves.

Basic moves include walking, dash, wall runs, jumps, air attacks and Chi moves which include a from of telekinesis in which you can pick up objects such as crates and hurl them with mind power. There are plenty of opportunities to put moves such as the wall run and a cloud tread to good use. The wall run lets you interact with the environment especially the levels that feature the Great Wall of China. The cloud tread gives your jump an extra boost so you can reach greater heights.

Online modes include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, VIP, Challenge Ring and Giant Kill. Team Deathmatch requires team cooperation and strategy. It's possible to wipe out the entire opposing team by pulling off one massive team strike. It's not easy especially if you've got guys on your side that aren't team players. Send them into the Deathmatch mode then and let them fight it out for themselves. VIP modes selects a leader for a Team Deathmatch game who has the ability to bring dead players back into the match. Either team has to kill the leader to win the match. The Challenge Ring mode is a head-to-head battle and you can even watch fights taking place in the spectator mode, which is quite boring actually.

As you might suspect there is some slowdown online as well as some lag. It does interfere with the gameplay since timing is everything. It's disheartening to see your opponent disappear only to warp within melee range of your melon whilst wielding a deadly war hammer.

The levels are huge and loaded with background details and animations such as forests and flowing lava. The colors are vibrant and textures are sharp and nicely detailed. The character models actually help to convey a sense of personality that would have otherwise been relegated to the story mode which is non existent.

Exotic sounding guitar rock blends Eastern-sounding scales with adrenaline-fueled riffs to highlight the union of mysticism and mayhem. Amongst the clanging of blades you'll also hear the screams and cries of the less fortunate. It's almost heartwarming.

It will take some time to reach a level of Zen with the control system. It takes plenty of mindfulness to reach a state of mindlessness. Once the controls become second nature Iron Phoenix comes to life. It's worth the effort if you're going to take this online. I wouldn't advise even renting this game if you're just interested in the single-player game since it's nothing more than a practice mode.


Preview by Chris

Gamers who have Xbox live certainly have a wide range of games to choose from. In the past few months it seems more and more choices have been announced. There has been one area that has been overlooked and for fans of fighting games the options have been very limited. The last true fighting game only offered a one on one battle and that of course was Capcom Vs SNK EO. While the game was fun to a point the limited options and modes left gamers hungry for something a little more advanced and with more players to compete against. It looks like Sammy and InterServ Int. are ready to bring out perhaps the boldest attempt yet for fighting fans. Iron Phoenix will benefit from InterServ Int. knowledge of PC games and software and Sammy Studios fighting games of the past. The two seem to make a perfect pair to be able to bring this project to the Xbox console.

Of course the plan right now is to offer 16 player battles in several different modes online. The biggest issue will be how to bring this to reality without lag. So this may change to 12 players, however, for fighting fans even 12-players being able to battle both in team and single player modes will be great! As far as the basic storyline, the game will use both Japanese and American fighting themes that have been proven to work before. The unique part of the game will be the fact the moves are not determined by the character you choose, although you will have a choice of male and female characters to choose from. The moves will be based on which of the nine weapons you find and have in your possession. This concept alone should interest those who are fans of fighting games. Also the game will feature some great visuals and even offer a single player story mode as well. The main focus is going to be on the online mode making use of all the features Xbox live already offers in a way never used before in a game.

If you are wondering exactly what features and their uses will be, here are a few examples. The headsets and the option to talk while doing battle will also be used in the game. You may be able to distract another player and allow an opening for a teammate in the team mode. So far the game sounds like there will be plenty of freedom and the option to roam free during battle, another thing fighting fans will really enjoy. While the game is still being made, take a look at the screen shots and you will see this one should offer fighting fans something that has never been offered on Xbox live before. It will also be more than a button masher type of game since you will need to know the right weapon to use to counter the other players character. Part brawler type of game and part DOA type in the way you will need to know what to do and when to do it. This one should be good and if they can really pull of a 16-player online fighting game, fans will love it. Look for more news on this one after E3 for sure!

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System: XBOX
Dev: InterServe International
Pub: Sammy
Released: March 2005
Players: 1 - 16
Review by Kelly