Super Fantasy Zone (Mega Drive) Review

By David Kelly 14.01.2017

Review for Super Fantasy Zone on Mega Drive

Super Fantasy Zone by Sunsoft is a sequel to the original SEGA arcade game, Fantasy Zone - a horizontally scrolling 2D shooting game that borrows some basic elements from the classic arcade title Defender. Fans of the SEGA arcade Space Harrier may remember the game opening with the phrase, "Welcome to the Fantasy Zone," and despite SEGA representatives' denial that the titles are linked, they certainly share some visual characteristics.

Fantasy Zone levels are large scrolling areas that are several screens wide, over which a number of enemy generators are located that have to be destroyed before progressing to the level boss. There is an abstract level map at the bottom of the screen showing where the ship and the generators are in the level, and the player can move anywhere in the level in any direction.

Defeated enemies drop coins, which can be spent in a shop to procure extra weapons, ship upgrades and extra lives. It isn't a large game, as there are only eight levels, but the high level of difficulty means that it will take a considerable amount of time to complete, particularly if the continue feature isn't overused.

This all may not sound particularly inspiring, and to be fair, Fantasy Zone is a fairly simple game with respect to the ruleset and aims. What is inspiring, however, is the flair, design and craftsmanship that has gone into its implementation.

Screenshot for Super Fantasy Zone on Mega Drive

If this game was presented as most were at the time, as an adventure set in space with fairly generic enemy design, then it may well have been an obscure forgotten footnote in arcade shooting game history, but this is not the case. Super Fantasy Zone is rendered in a series of attractive palettes of pastel hues, and the player ship, enemies, level backgrounds and bosses are designed in keeping with the upbeat colour scheme. It's an early entry in the so-called "cute 'em up" genre, and it could be argued that it at least partially inspired game series such as Parodius by Konami.

The player's ship is called Opa-Opa within what passes for a story, and despite appearing to be a mechanical craft, it shows characteristics of a transient being, sprouting legs and feet when navigating close to the ground, and sporting a pair of wings when in flight.

The enemy and boss designs share this basic design remit, but exhibit a wide variety of forms; many of which are themed to each level with others being of an extremely abstract form. Movement and animation are simple but effective, and it is clear that a large amount of effort was expended on this aspect of the game, which overall is quite beautiful.

The boss battles are pretty simple affairs to begin with, but some of the later battles require some thought, as well as manual dexterity. The shops, accessed via balloons that appear in the levels, provide some scope for tactical thought, as some weapons are better suited to certain boss battles. Each time an item is bought, its price goes up, so this prevents the overusing of certain items and forces experimentation.

Screenshot for Super Fantasy Zone on Mega Drive

The soundtrack has had a similar amount of care and attention. Each level has its own jaunty tune, many of which seem of have a Latin/calypso fusion inspiration, although the boss battle tune is more typical of the genre and does a good job of building tension.

The overall friendly look is misleading, however, and arcade origins are inherent in its difficulty. It is an interesting experience to play such a cute game with such a high degree of difficulty. The SEGA Saturn got a stunning port of the arcade game as part of the SEGA Ages series, and is considered to be the first accurate recreation at home, and it features a generous amount of extras, some available from the start and some unlocked as playtime is clocked up.

The options include setting rapid fire rates, overall difficulty, region version (US or JPN), and the ability to disable shop inflation. It is telling that many of the options are there to decrease the game's difficulty. The Saturn port also boasts the ability to record and playback games, which is one of the earliest examples of that type of functionality, and playbacks can be accompanied by an optional remix of the soundtrack complete with vocals and a karaoke option! There is a two-player alternating turns mode, which is always welcome. The disc also has several expert playback recordings to enjoy by those wishing to learn some tricks or how to defeat some of the tougher bosses.

Screenshot for Super Fantasy Zone on Mega Drive

The SEGA Ages release for the Saturn was Japan only, as was the Fantasy Zone compilation released for the PlayStation 2, so it's a pity that while Fantasy Zone was ported to several platforms, including the SEGA Master System, many in the West didn't get to play an accurate home version of the game. However, the PS2 compilation also features the sequel, Super Fantasy Zone, which received a cross-region release on the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1992, and so celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017.

Sunsoft's Super Fantasy Zone is a sequel, but it could be accused of being more of a remix of the original game. The graphics have been upgraded and the music changed, although whether this represents an improvement will come down to individual tastes. The levels have also been slightly altered, and the shop has many new items to use, such as a headlight that can be used to advantage in a new underground level, but gameplay largely remains the same.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; the gameplay remains as entertaining and as solid as ever, although the difficulty has been toned down for home play. For those who prefer the original soundtrack, that can be activated by a series of keypresses on the controller. The two-player mode is absent, sadly, but since that mode was only turn-based, it isn't a huge loss.

Screenshot for Super Fantasy Zone on Mega Drive

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Super Fantasy Zone isn't a massively complex game, even for 16-bit platforms, but it provides a highly entertaining and unusual shooting game experience, and despite it not being developed by SEGA, still delivers the spirit and craftsmanship of that great old arcade game.

Developer

Sunsoft

Publisher

SEGA

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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