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Phoenix is based on the old myth about the great Arabian bird who lived for more than 500 years. As the story goes, when this bird was about to die, it built itself a nest of frankincense, myrrh and other aromatic spices. After the bird set the nest on fire by beating its scarlet and gold wings, it nested among the flames to die a fiery death.

From the ashes of that fire arose a young, revitalized Phoenix, ready to begin life anew. Shortly thereafter, this freshly born bird took the remains of the former Phoenix to the temple of the sun at Heliopolis in Egypt, sacrificing them on the altar. Many cultures look to the story of the Phoenix as a symbol of immortality and rebirth.

In Phoenix for the Atari 2600, something has happened to corrupt this beautiful bird of legend. Radioactive fallout has polluted the nest, mutating the current Phoenix into a bird of prey. Also, several birds arise from the ashes, working not for, but against human beings, helping aliens drain the Earth of its resources.

At the helm of a laser cannon that can slide back and forth at the bottom of the screen, your job is to shoot four separate flocks of bomb-dropping war birds out of the sky and then take on the alien spaceship.

The first couple of flocks are composed of smaller birds, but the third and fourth flocks are composed of larger birds, each of which must be shot directly in the center of its body. If you clip these larger birds' wings, they will merely regenerate new ones.

When you reach the alien spaceship, you must destroy (in increments) the rotating hull of the spaceship beneath the cockpit. When you have created a gap in the hull, you must then time your shot to coincide with the hole beneath the alien pilot. After you have destroyed the ship, you must begin again at the first flock of war birds.

To help you stay alive, your laser cannon is equipped with a force field that will temporarily make you invincible against enemy fire. When you are using the force field, your laser cannon is frozen in place. It can shoot, but it can't move.