Before there was Sonic, before there was Alex Kidd, there was… Opa-Opa.
It feels like it was only a few weeks ago when we last set foot into the Fantasy Zone. Ah, but this isn’t the same world of wonder and whimsy that we witnessed in Space Harrier; rather, this version of the Fantasy Zone is a little more saccharine than the dragon-filled Super Scaler paradise Yu Suzuki laid out for us.
Fantasy Zone belongs to the shoot ’em up sub-genre fondly referred to as the “cute ’em up,” i.e. a shoot ’em up with a more cutesy, cartoonish aesthetic than the high-tech star fighters and gruesome alien constructs which more commonly tend to populate the genre. To that end, the game’s star is Opa-Opa, a sentient spaceship with wings and legs.
As the story goes, the planet Menon’s forces are stealing all the currencies to create a space fortress in the Fantasy Zone, causing a panic due to the collapsing economies left in their wake. It falls to Opa-Opa to not only stop the invading army, but also to discover who could possibly be behind such a devious plot.
Put like that, the plot sounds strangely mature for what’s about to unfold.
What’s old is new again …
In terms of gameplay, Fantasy Zone borrows significantly from Williams/Midway/Warner Bros.’ Defender, specifically in that players don’t progress through a stage until they reach a goal, but are instead in something of an arena that loops back around on itself, wherein they attempt to accomplish a set goal.
In this case, the objective is to destroy all ten bases within a given stage to draw out that level’s boss for a showdown. While Opa-Opa can freely turn and fire left and right in his mission to destroy the bases, boss battles take on a more traditional back-and-forth style of movement with Opa-Opa always facing right.
Defeating some enemies and bases will lead to coin drops, which can then be collected and spent in the shops that occasionally appear in each stage. Different weapons and engines can be purchased in the shop, though some of their effects are only temporary.
The legend of M2 continues …
In 2014, M2 brought Fantasy Zone to the masses as a part of SEGA’s line of 3D Classics titles for the Nintendo 3DS. As they so often do, they added a number of new features to the title, many of which have been carried over to this version of the game.
Gone, of course, are the 3D visuals. While dazzling in a game such as Space Harrier, their absence feels like less of a loss here. In its place, for those who enjoy a little bit of haptic force feedback, is the inclusion of the Switch’s trumpeted “HD Rumble.” Though I had the feature turned on, I can’t say I really noticed it much during gameplay.
Other added or retained features include online rankings, configurable controls, a choice between the Old/Japanese version and the New/International version of the game, save states, and a music player. Various wallpaper options emulate arcade units, the usual generic backgrounds, or black borders. Display effects include scan line, smoothing, both, or neither.
Display modes include the standard array of sizes, but those marked “Display Details” show a number of handy details. These include the name and map of the current area, where the bases are, how much gold you have, a tally of how many bases are remaining, and who the boss you’ll fight at the end of the level is.
Speaking of the bases, if the map isn’t enough for you, you can turn on “base markers.” When activated, cartoon-styled white gloves will appear at the edge of either side of the screen, pointing you in the direction of the nearest remaining bases.
Further options include a stage select, which allows you to choose from the stages you’ve already visited, and you can adjust the difficulty (one to four stars) and number of lives (one to five), just as in the 3D Classics version. You can also adjust the rate of Rapid Shot Speed to your liking, though there’s only one option now, rather than individual settings for Weapon 1 and Weapon 2 as before.
The mystery unlockables of the 3DS version return as well, but now fortunately require less of you: Instead of having to earn $1,000,000, $2,000,000, and $3,000,000 as before, you’ll only need to bank $250,000, $500,000, and $1,000,000. Plus, Coin Stock returns, meaning that you don’t have to start a new run penniless.
New modes galore …
Among the bigger changes/inclusions is the new Time Attack mode. In this mode, there are no points, no settings to adjust, and base markers are disabled, making it more than just a time challenge.
Greater than that, however, is the inclusion of Upa-Upa Mode. This feature had to be unlocked by beating the game in the 3D Classics version, but is available from the outset on Nintendo Switch. Incidentally, as it’s a newer mode, you can’t switch to the Old/Japanese version here.
What Upa-Upa brings to the mix is an entirely different game economy. You begin the game by choosing an engine, then during gameplay (no pausing for this, unfortunately), using L or R to select from the armory of weapons shown on either side of the screen. The only catch is that every shot fired costs money. As long as you can fund it, you can fire it, but run out of dosh, and you’re back to your basic blaster.
It might just be me, but I found this mode to be a lot tougher than normal play. Maybe I relied too much on the fancy weapons, or didn’t take the time to properly acclimate myself to the fastest engine available, but even when I toned things back, things felt a bit more “bullet hell” than normal in the game.
Oh, and for those who might have enjoyed Fantasy Zone as it appeared on the SEGA Master System way back in the day? The two alternate bosses from that version are back, and can be fought if certain conditions are met.
For all intents and purposes, the 2014 3D Classics version of Fantasy Zone on the Nintendo 3DS could be considered the definitive edition. And yet, with the SEGA AGES version, M2 have managed to outdo themselves. A nip here, a tuck there, a tweak and a little fine-tuning to what they’ve done before, and — unless you’re a true 3D devotee — and we’ve got something even better.
If you’ve got the 3D Classics version of the game and are happy to break that out whenever you need your Fantasy Zone fix, there’s probably not a lot here beyond Time Attack to persuade you to open up your wallet. But whether you’ve just moved on to the Switch and prefer to keep things up to date, have never played Fantasy Zone before, or simply want the best version you can get on a high-definition television, there is really no way you can go wrong with this purchase. (And not that this isn’t worth the already-low asking price, but the SEGA AGES titles seem to go on sale often enough that you can probably swing an even better deal if you’re uncertain.)
- Upa-Upa unlocked from the start
- Options out the wazoo
- Lower price point for certain features
- New Time Attack mode for the pros.
- Um… oh! “But maybe I’m too rough ‘n gruff for a game like this!” Then it might not work for you.