Fantasy Zone (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Master System First Day Score: 9,100
Also Available For: Arcade, Game Gear, Nintendo NES, PC Engine, MSX, X68000
Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Love them or loathe them, videogame mascots were big business in the 80’s and 90’s. Every system needed one and most of them received one too, for good or ill. Well, they did until ultra-violent First Person Shooters became the staple of each machine’s lineup, at least. Anyway, Sega is best known to most for Sonic, but before they conjured up that pesky blue hedgehog they tried out a couple of other potential characters. One of them was Opa-Opa, a curious sentient spaceship type of creature. He didn’t last long as head mascot though – Sega soon switched their attention to Alex Kidd before he too was forgotten, but Opa-Opa is an endearing little chap all the same whose games remain fondly remembered today. This is the first.
Fantasy Zone saw his debut with this Master System release being converted from the arcade game of the previous year. It, and indeed the later games in the series are set in a place called… umm… the Fantasy Zone, oddly enough, which consists of several planets. In the midst of some sort of spacial recession, the residents of one of these planets, Menon, decide to try and strip all the wealth from the other planets to fund the construction of a huge fortress in the Fantasy Zone. Understandably upset at this blatant lack of community-spirit, the residents of the remaining planets nominate Opa-Opa to stop the forces of Menon. To do this he must visit each of the eight planets they’ve occupied and kick them out, which means taking to the skies in the form of a side-viewed shmup. But this is no run-of-the-mill side-scroller.
Each but the last of the eight stages is free-scrolling, meaning he can fly in either direction, and they are also looped. Populating each of them are six enemy ‘bases’ (large Menon creatures) which just, sort of, sit or hover there, spawning smaller Menons periodically. The object of each stage is to destroy all the bases, at which point a large boss will appear. However, to make life as difficult as possible for you, each stage is also home to a large variety of absolutely bizarre smaller Menon creatures. Some of them are solitary but they generally attack in formation. Opa-Opa is equipped with a weak but rapid-fire twin shot cannon and he can also drop small bombs. Contact with any enemy, large or small, is of course immediately fatal, however. The pesky Menons are useful for one thing though – destroying a group of them or a base results in a coin dropping from their last position and bouncing around for a short time before disappearing. Grab these quickly and you can spend them in the shop to upgrade Opa-Opa’s abilities.
The floating shop icon appears at the start of each stage, and occasionally later on too if you spend enough time on a stage. Upon entering this apparently Tardis-like shop you are presented with various items covering three categories. Opa-Opa is apparently a winged creature and the shop offers the chance to give him bigger wings, or even one of several engines. These are of course speed-ups, and a similar range of upgrades are available for his standard shot (such as wide shot, laser, seven-way shot) and his bombs (twin bombs, fire bombs, heavy bombs, etc). The speed-ups will last for the remainder of the life but the shot upgrades are timed and most of the bomb upgrades only last for one shot, so pick your targets carefully!
If there’s one thing that the Fantasy Zone games are known for, it’s their cute, garishly-coloured visual style. Whilst it would be unfair to focus just on that, it’s certainly easy to see where the reputation comes from! This is among the most colourful games I’ve played – some stages such as the first feature bright greens, pinks, and blues, whereas others such as the third stage are adorned in more restrained pastels, but the sheer variety in colours used throughout the game really is amazing. The sprites are mostly small but nicely drawn, although I’ve absolutely no idea what most of them are meant to be, but the variety of the visuals through the game is amazing. Something else Fantasy Zone is well known for is its excellent audio. The original music and effects featured here are of a very high standard and would go on to be used for most of the other games in the series, and the tunes have been remixed several times to great effect.
No matter how cute and colourful the game might look, however, it certainly isn’t easy! The smaller Menon attackers in each stage are infinite and there only to get in your way. They grow ever faster and more plentiful as the game wears on, and they change direction without any warning. Some of them have such erratic flight paths/formations it’s hard to predict where they’re going to go, and therefore where you can go, and their bullets travel at lightning speeds in the later levels. With all this in mind, it’s fortunate that the collision-detection is spot on, to the pixel. You still won’t get far in this game without careful use of the shop and its wares though, and each time you purchase most of the upgrades, they’ll increase in price for the next time you need them!
There really isn’t anything else quite like Fantasy Zone. Its unique gameplay style, not to mention its eye-bleeding visuals, mean the series has its detractors of course, much like any other, but there can’t be too many gamers who don’t appreciate this classic. It’s precise play-mechanics make it a joy to play and it’s as addictive as any shooter I’ve played. Despite its challenging nature, it’s such a happy, vibrant game, you can’t really help but enjoy it.
RKS Score: 8/10