Willis Phoenix UR cpo
Hope you’re not getting tired of all the Willis artwork because I have another one to talk about, and this one is special. It’s the Willis Phoenix cpo (control panel overlay), produced back in 1981 by Willis Industries. This slick looking cpo could have been used by an operator to spruce up a game before tossing it back into the line up to make money. It has an attractive blue fore ground, space scene background and the mechanized looking bird we’ve come to recognize as the Centuri Phoenix. But why is this cpo special, and why does it look so familiar? Is this really a Willis Phoenix replacement cpo or is it some type of NOS (new old stock) variation produced by Centuri?
It does have a number of similarities to the original game side art, so what’s going on? Was this Willis Phoenix replacement cpo drawn by the same artist? Did they infringe on Centuri’s intellectual property? Or is it possible that Willis worked with Centuri to create this artwork? That’s a lot of questions.
Let’s take a closer look and maybe we can figure it out. First let’s gaze at the mechanized Phoenix character that can be seen on the flyer, the cabinet side art and a Phoenix UR control panel. The Phoenix is such a classic image that every 80’s game collector can instantly recognize it. The blue feathers and metallic gold body give the impression of some massive war bird about to strike, until I blast it into 8 bit dust, of course. The Phoenix character seen in these images is strikingly similar to the cpo image above.
Looking at the back of the flyer shows what the dedicated cabinet looked like when it rolled off the production line in the early 80’s. You can see the dedicated control panel artwork on the cabinet, which makes it obvious that my cpo was not a production piece. Closer inspection reveals that it was in fact made by Willis back in 1981 – but we already knew this. While the Willis Phoenix cpo is similar to the dedicated cpo there are also many differences. The layout, text and graphics are all different. The Phoenix character and color scheme are the primary similarities.
The answer to this little mystery might surprise you, but it is something I’ve talked about before. Willis did in fact work with Centuri and produced the artwork for many of their classic titles. How do I know this? Most of it is inferred from informational brochures that have been found. The brochures list some of what Willis Industries had to offer and showcased many artwork packages that as classic game collectors, we are very familiar with. You can check out the original story “A little Willis history uncovered” right HERE. I hope you are just as surprised as I was to learn about the role Willis played in producing the artwork for some classic games. Back to the Willis Phoenix…
I’m a big fan of this particular overlay, probably because I’m a big fan of the arcade game Phoenix. I can remember playing the game as a kid at the “Down the Hatch” restaurant in Schaumburg, IL. We’d go after weekend soccer games and I remember it vividly because it had this giant ship anchor out front and a huge waiting area with free mints. In the waiting area they had a cocktail version of Phoenix and I would play it as long as I could, wolfing down my food so I could squeeze in a few games before we left. Shooting the birds and watching them split in two was very satisfying. I own a maxi version now and still love the game. The Willis Phoenix cpo isn’t a particularly rare piece to find, almost common. What is hard to find is an example in nice shape with all the die cuts still intact. I have several copies of this cpo but this is by far the nicest one; with almost all the die cuts intact, bright colors and no damage. A great piece of history, into the vault it goes. Game on!
If you have any information about Willis Industries, Willis artwork or the people that made Willis Industries run, drop me a line I’d love to talk Willis. I’m always interested in buying Willis artwork, catalogs, brochures or any other arcade paperwork.