Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fantasy Zone

Okay, so most of you will probably think this is completely ridiculous, but I have this habit...When I'm playing a shooter, and there's a lull in the gameplay either during the level, or at the end when it's tallying up your score, I'll move the d-pad up & down and make my ship "dance" around the screen to whatever music's playing. Call me stupid, n00b, or whatever, but there it is. So I popped in this game, started the first level, and was immediately struck by the "funky" music. So, naturally, being silly, I started dancing my ship around...and that's when I noticed the enemies moved to the rhythm in a similar fashion!

This is Fantasy Zone for the NES, where the vast array of cute enemies dance to the music. Be not deceived, though; this game is brutal & those "cute" enemies will make mincemeat of you in a heartbeat at the slightest misstep.

Fantasy Zone is, like so many shmups for the 8-bit consoles, a port of an arcade game. However, to my knowledge, the game was never released to arcades in the States. This game in particular has seen many ports to home consoles, including the Turbografx 16, the Famicom (yes, the Famicom port is different from the NES one) and the Sega Master System, a natural choice given that Fantasy Zone was produced by Sega initially.

"Then why," you ask, "was a Sega game released on a console by Nintendo, Sega's main competitor?" The answer to that question is quite simple. A third-party company called Tengen got fed up with Nintendo's strict third-party developer rules and released several unlicensed NES games, most of which were ports of arcade games. Tengen's releasing of Sega-based games is widely considered to be one of their biggest 'F-you's to Nintendo, second only to their selling of their own version of Tetris, a game which already had an official Nintendo release, which ultimately caused Nintendo to sue the company & bring their production of unlicensed games to a halt.

Anyway, I digress. Fantasy Zone is a game noted for its colors, and colors it has. The amount of color on-screen is impressive for an NES game. The cute sprites are all rendered with all that color & everything looks pretty nice. Not as nice as the Master System version, but still...

For being one of the earliest games that fall into the genre of "cute-em-ups", this game is deceptively difficult. You fly your sentient, winged aircraft named Opa-Opa left and right in a similar fashion to Defender. However, when you move at full-speed in either direction, there's little space between your ship and the edge of the screen. It is in these instances when enemies choose to appear and take you by surprise, thus smiting poor Opa-Opa and causing him to explode in a puff of stars. The object of the game is to destroy a set number of enemy bases, and once that is completed, you fight the level boss. Destroying enemies earns you coins, which you can use to buy upgrades for your ship at the game's shop.

The one major gripe most people have against this game is the slowdown/flicker. The scrolling of the backgrounds is kind of choppy, though it doesn't bother me much. The bosses, however, tend to slow the game down quite a bit. For me, however, this is a blessing in disguise. Bosses tend to barrage you with a screen-filling maelstrom of bullets, so the slowdown gives you an opportunity to bob and weave in between them. It can get troublesome at times, but I don't mind so much.

Fantasy Zone is an excellent game, brought down a couple notches by a bit of choppiness and flicker. If you aren't a fan of the cute-em-ups, pick it up anyway; the game's degree of challenge is certainly enough to keep you interested, if not the incomprehensible Japanese ridiculousness. It's not the best port, but it's certainly the cheapest. I picked up my copy for about $5. "Was my victory really worth the price I had to pay?" I'd say so. :)

4 out of 5 stars.

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