Fantasy Zone (Sega)
So many shmups have heavy music, vast spacescapes and horrid alien bosses, but not Fantasy Zone. One of Sega’s first shooters to grace arcades in 1986 it’s also one of the best titles that explains exactly what you’re going to get. Fantasy Zone breaks the mold for such a popular title – it was ported to almost everything imaginable in the late 80s – and still manages to be a fun and addicting shmup. Forget the brutal challenge and seriousness of other shmups (like Gradius, which has been owning my soul all morning) and instead wander over to a colorful bubbly world with protagonist Opa-Opa.
Looking like a hybrid between a space ship and a small winged creature with legs, Opa-Opa has been somewhat of a sidekick for Sega, even getting an appearance in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing. In Fantasy Zone you will control this little ship in a scrolling world (think Defender) while defeating bad guys to collect money and upgrade your ship. As you move along certain boss battles will unlock that move you on to the next world, each new one as unique as the one before it. Fantasy Zone is littered with bright colors and funny looking enemies that get it categorized as more of a “cute ’em up”. To this day I still don’t know exactly where to unlock each boss, but I do know that they appear before you have spent too much time thinking about it. That’s the thing, unlike many other shmups you’re not trying to reach a goal per se, but rather exploring a world and letting it take you on a ride. I know plenty of people who didn’t think there even was a world beyond the first and still pumped quarters into the machine to play it anyway.
The speed run below shows how you can fly through the game in about 9 minutes, but my play only got me to the third level and I wasted nearly half an hour. Thanks to the world and relatively small number of sprites, it’s also significant that most home ports were able to capture the arcade feel and contain faithful recreation of the graphics. Of these ports, the most popular in America has to be the Sega Master System version, which is a mere $5 on the Virtual Console. In fact, for myself and many like me, it was one of the few games to purchase the system (or Genesis add-on) for. There was also a Famicom version, but it had mild slowdown issues and didn’t quite capture the feel of this game (plus what the hell is a Sega game doing on a Nintendo console?). Supposedly there’s an unlicensed version on the NES by Tengen, but I have yet to find one in the wild. Probably closest to the arcade version, and my version of choice, is the Turbografx-16/PC-Engine version, which surprisingly is available on both consoles. Usually arcade ports like these only made appearances on NEC’s Japanese console, the PC-Engine, but Fantasy Zone managed to sneak onto the American console as well. While the video below is an impressive run, if you value random plot points you didn’t know to care about, don’t hang through to the big reveal and Star Wars-esque ending.
Tears of Opa-Opa
The follow-up came out only one year later and truth be told is difficult to speak to many differences. Fantasy Zone II: Tears of Opa-Opa probably refers to the ending of the first title, which you’ll have to work through the first to see (or just watch the video directly above this). Basically this game feels like the original in every way with updated worlds and enemies (oh and it’s easily twice as long), but the concept is identical. There is the addition of bombs, much like Scramble or Gradius, which are controlled by the second fire button. Unfortunately I have not gotten to the end of this particular title, but I can contest it is just as addicting as the original. Unlike the original, this game came out first on the Sega Master System and was later ported to the arcade, which is why the graphics for both are the same.
As I said above, this title started life on the Sega Master System, later getting ported to the arcade, Famicom and a few microcomputers like the MSX. More recently it was released on the Virtual Console (yet again as the original Sega Master System version) and it was on a Japan-only Sega Ages collection entitled the Fantasy Zone Collection. What is significant about this version is that developer M2 remade this game as if it was on a Sega 16 arcade board, thus improving visuals and backgrounds. In truth it’s more a hybrid of the original’s worlds with the sequel’s characters and music, but I’m told it’s impressive either way. For contrast, I have a video of that version below.
The series appears to have generated some buzz for Sega in the late 80s, and just like every company that wasn’t Nintendo back then, there was a draw to create off-shoot titles that didn’t quite hit the mark. As a result Opa-Opa got whored out on a few of these:
- Opa Opa (aka Fantasy Zone: The Maze) is a hybrid between the world of Fantasy Zone and basic concepts of Pac-Man. The result is okay, but in truth I don’t see why you wouldn’t just play Pac-Man, but then there weren’t that many choices on the Master System back then. Yes, I know the Master System got Ms. Pac-Man, but not until 1991 and Opa Opa came out in ’87.
- Galactic Protector came out in 1988 only for the Sega Mark III (Master System) in Japan, which I hoped meant it was a solid sequel to the first two games. Nope, it’s a stupid game where an anthropomorphized Earth makes scared faces and two huge dudes run around the planet to protect it from an onslaught of meteors. It doesn’t even deserve its own video on this page, but if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can view it here.
- Space Fantasy Zone was set to come out on the PC-Engine Super CD in 1990, but never did get released. Thanks to the miracle of emulation a leaked version of the game can be played. It’s basically Phantasy Zone meets Space Harrier, with the world coming from the former and the gameplay coming from the latter. Unfortunately, whether it’s the way the game was programmed or just the weak way this type of game gets ported – Space Harrier had major issues with properly targeting your shots and this title is even worse – the game sucks. Probably not even worth the headache to emulate, but then if you have a large PC-Engine CD collection, you can burn this to a disc and play it on your console thanks to the lack of copy or region protection. A must for the serious collector who wants to have absolutely everything.
Getting Back to Basics
After many of those failed attempts, Sega finally decided to go to the roots of what made Fantasy Zone good: a scrolling world where you discovered and eliminated bosses. Enter Fantasy Zone Gear: The Adventures of Opa-Opa Jr. Game Gear had just hit the market and since it was basically a portable Master System there was no reason not to make a portable version. When you think about it the series is perfect for portable gaming and I can’t say enough about how good this title is. It updated some of the weapons and played more to the strengths of a 3″ screen, but essentially it’s an updated re-creation of the original (which is probably why it’s simply titled Fantasy Zone in some regions). Having said that, this game is freaking hard. It’s much more difficult that the first two, which weren’t the easiest games in their own right – sure they are easy when compared to other brutal shmups but even the easiest shmup is going to be a difficult title. With the speed principle and that unfortunate blurring effect that any LCD screen, color or not, had in the early 90s this game was just more difficult. After playing it on a screen with an emulator, I’ve discovered that the blur was just an excuse, I still can’t keep up with this game.
Opa-Opa Gets a Face Lift
The most recent title, Super Fantasy Zone, you may assume came out on the SNES with the “super” in the title and a 1992 release date, but remember this is purely a Sega property. It actually came out on the Mega Drive in Japan and Europe, but not in the United States, although no true reason was given (perhaps they didn’t want to purchase new labels with “Genesis” on the side). Fortunately you can pick this up on the Genesis Virtual Console nowadays and if you’re a interested in the series, this may be the best way to get started. First off the graphics are much closer to the original arcade version and in truth the overall game doesn’t really differ much from the original. It even seems to have the same storyline as the original, like verbatim (although I’m relying on Wikipedia for that info as I don’t have the instruction manual for this one), making it a reasonable title to start on. I’d like to say I had a blast with this one, but keep in mind that I had not played it before I doing this article (I picked it up on Virtual Console) and I was quite burned out on Fantasy Zone at that point. It didn’t seem to have any unnecessary changes, tweaks, or negative upgrades, so there’s really no reason to assume it’s not the best choice for a one-off purchase for the series. You can check it out for yourself below:
And that’s the Fantasy Zone series! Look for an upcoming article on the “cute ’em up” genre this week as well as more titles that establish the parameters of the genre. Tomorrow will be a short but sweet article on probably one of the more rare games in my collection: Magical Chase. As a Turbografx-16 game this is one of the many great shmups that released on the PC-Engine, but unlike many of them it actually got exported to the United States and saw a true release on our system! I happened to pick it up sometime earlier in my childhood at a clearance sale and these days fetches hundreds of dollars even as just the HuCard form I have.