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3D Fantasy Zone (3DS) artwork

3D Fantasy Zone (3DS) review

"Action! Politics! Riots! Tragedy! Adorable!"

It's really hard writing about the Sega of today, especially the American side, without falling into a paragraph-long rant about how far they've gone from "the good ol' days"... and this one is no exception; seems all they've been doing for the last two years was publish Sonic and Total War titles, Nintendo crossovers, and some Hatsune Miku and Yakuza sprinkled here and there. While returning to their former glory is becoming extremely bleak with each passing year, I guess we can take a bit of solace with the recent line of classics released on the 3DS eShop by the sages of M2. In particular, 3D Fantasy Zone is a reminder of how Sega used to wow audiences with a diverse, imaginative universe that seemed like it was lifted from the mind of a child, mixed with engaging gameplay, creating an experience that stuck with players long after their adventures ended.

I mean, the game is very hard to confuse for something else, as simply staring at footage or an image can reduce a person to "Huh?" and "Wait, what?" reactions. It's really difficult explaining what anything looks like in Fantasy Zone without having to combine real-life things together just for a close comparison. The protagonist, Opa-Opa, looks like a robotic, oval woodpecker with a dealer's visor and dove wings, and the enemies range anywhere from green scissors with eyeballs and blue seagulls with yellow wings, to abdomens with legs and skin-toned hand gloves with thrusters. I guess???? The backgrounds are just as abstract, with one level featuring purple mountain regions that literally twist and bend, and another that looks like it's made of Swiss cheese. Thankfully, everything is presented with a cutesy, adorable art style; I'd be frightened to see how this all turned out if they went for a realistic approach...

Once one gets passed the initial awe of this visual wonderland, the actual gameplay is going to throw players for a loop who never experienced Opa-Opa's universe. At the core, the game is influenced by Defender's mechanics, such as the ability to navigate freely around a map that loops, and fiddles with them enough to make for a distinct shoot'em up separate from its inspiration. No longer does your character need to flush away enemies that clutter and abduct civilians from the screen, instead needing to destroy bases scattered around the map. Unlike Defender, as well, stripping each stage of these obstacles will commence the appearance of boss fights, and, what a surprise, they're just as bizarre as everything else in the game! To name a few, the first boss is a giant log that spray leaves from its mouth and the second stage boss is... I dunno... an angry-faced potion bottle surrounded by orbs.

But don't let Fantasy Zone's onslaught of sugary sweetness fool you into thinking it as a brisk, relaxing, afternoon delight; it's leagues from that. Venture a little ways farther into Opa-Opa's plight to prevent an uprising after an interplanetary collapse in the economy, and you'll quickly realize how ruthless the game can be. Those wondrous, weird creatures previously mentioned are intent on hounding your protagonist at every opportunity, randomly appearing from the sides of the screen when you least expect it, floating, fluttering, and zipping along in various formations. Some formations take up most of the screen, others attempt to wrap a net around you, and while flying away makes most disappear completely once they're off screen, there are certain formations that are stubbornly glued to the corners of the screen until you vanquish their presence with a solid projectile barrage.

As opponents become more tenacious with each passing stage, it's hard for Opa-Opa to keep up the hunt with its default lack of speed and weapons. This is where Fantasy Zone's peculiar upgrade system comes into play. Unlike typical shoot'em ups, where you can grab power-ups from destroyed combatants, this game's enemies and bases tend to drop coins of differing values, and if you have enough coins on hand, a red balloon floats down from the top of the screen. Touch the balloon, and you'll enter a shop where you can purchase bigger wings to go faster, upgrade your secondary weapon to drop more bombs at once, and even buy an extra life. There's enticing primary weapon upgrades, too, like the always attractive spreadshot and a giant projectile wave, as well as a comedic anvil, if you so dare to use. And while you can only use one primary and one secondary at a time, don't let that stop you from buying multiple weapons to use later!

The catch? While specific items like the double bombs and speed items stay with Opa-Opa, pretty much every other upgrade has a short time limit or one-time use attached to them. Further more, with every subsequent purchase of the same item, the price gets raised, and paying for an item too many times eventually results in an absurd price tag. Finally, lose a life just once, and all your items, even the backups, vanish from your inventory, leaving you with the sight of a red balloon that almost seems to be mocking when you come back from the lose. All these rules add a layer of tension and strategy to an already challenging game, giving Fantasy Zone yet another reason why it firmly stood out from others. Would you rather purchase upgrades once the stage starts, or hold out for a later balloon? Or just flat out withdraw from buying any powerful weapons at all so you'll have an easier time with money later in the game?

These elements and mechanics give the game an exciting flavor all its own, but I have to tell you something: if this was purely a straight port, I probably would have been a little harsher on it at this point in the review. The game is tough, mostly in a fun type of way if you're into that, but, being an arcade product of the 1980s, it can be very aggressive at times. I'm not exaggerating when I say that enemy formations can overwhelm you and the screen as a whole, not to mention the projectiles they toss at Opa-Opa; when you reach the latter stages, it literally transforms into a bullet hell shooter, and if you lose all your upgrades and currency to repurchase them, it's a colossal uphill battle. Also, if you die at a boss encounter, the game refuses to give you a red balloon as you spawn before the boss fight, and if you deplete all lives, there's no continue, just a Game Over screen.

However, simply by being a release done by the developers of M2, 3D Fantasy Zone, by default, is a suitable port. All the typical inclusions they've added to previous 3D Classics, like tinkering with the life count, auto rapid shooting, and the ability to level select once you complete them, makes the game far more playable and approachable, especially to newcomers. Additionally, M2 put in a Coin Stock that exists outside the game, which collects all the coins that hadn't been spent during each playthrough. The purpose of this outer bank is for those who want to start off each session with some extra money on hand, meaning you can easily pack some serious heat on the very first stage. If you want. It's nice having options like these in a port, because, while I do play 3D Fantasy Zone pure sometimes, there's days where I don't like the pressure, and just want to wreak havoc without dealing with the harshness of this adorable game.

As for the game's exclusive extras, well... they're either really questionable or just plain stupid. Defeating the final boss unlocks a modified version of the game where you control Opa-Opa's brother, Upa-Upa, hence explaining why the product's full name is 3D Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Bros. at the title screen. That's where it stops being cool. Upa-Upa's mode plays like a really bizarre, handicapped version of the normal game, where enemies are more aggressive, your default primary weapon is disempowered to a single projectile stream, and the item shop is available to you at all times on the 3DS' bottom screen. As for the latter, considering the fast-paced, hectic nature of the game, the shop being openly accessible is a terrible idea, since you can barely look away from the action to select an item adequately. But the absolute worst idea is how the upgraded weapons drain your currency per shot, meaning it's incredibly easy to drain everything you got in just seconds with a solid weapon. A masochist's dream mode!

Other unlockables include the option to prolong upgrade usage, allow more valuable coins to drop, and latch on to an upgraded primary weapon without worrying about time limits. While all sounding quite desirable, the path to unlocking them is unnecessarily time-consuming. Simply put, you get one after collecting one million coins, another for two million, and, surprise, the final one at three million, and since you barely reach half a million with a single playthrough, you'll need to replay the game several times to gain access to everything. I will give 3D Fantasy Zone credit for never boring me all those times I replayed it, but that doesn't excuse the excessive repetition needed to achieve some goodies. I mean, by the time you have everything, you pretty much have a solid grip on the game, and will likely want to move on to something else by then. Surely, there could have been a better method of going about this...

Isn't it strange that I rambled on all this time without a single mention of the stereoscopic 3D effects? Well, that's simply because that was the least interesting aspect, and it wasn't until I started growing fatigued of playing 3D Fantasy Zone that I decided to give it a more prolonged look. It basically does a competent job showing some backgrounds as... backgrounds, while the more complex landscapes actually become huge distractions, which is a disservice to a game that requires your utmost attention. Despite these odd, bumbling additions that have no major influence on the main game, M2 has delivered a flattering port job to one of Sega's more memorable and still-challenging titles from a bygone era of quality. For longtime gamers, purchasing this is a bittersweet reminder that there used to be no boundaries with Sega, and for newcomers, it goes to show how far they've fallen from grace. Enjoy!


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (March 12, 2015)

Regardless of my thoughts on the first two games, I genuinely hope No More Heroes 3 is a good game.


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