Fantasy Zone (TurboGrafx-16) review
"She's been around, but you’ll want to plug it in anyway..."
Fantasy Zone has made more stops than your local transit in rush hour traffic. Incarnations have landed on the NES and Genesis, to name a few Zone destinations, and thanks to NEC, the classic, colourful, cutesy Sega shoot-em-up has also graced Turbografx-16 screens to provide an antithesis to generic shooter chiaroscuro.
Highly organized intergalactic thieves have conquered the Fantasy Zone. As Opa-Opa (yes, that’s you), venture through eight levels of side-scrolling light-hearted blasting on your crusade to recapture the beautiful galaxy and return peace and prosperity. Each stage is bristling with formations of minuscule monsters—some who fire bullets and you, and others whose only intent is to get in your way. This all sounds typical enough of the genre, but there are some notable character traits that Zone displays, to set it apart from the Gradiuses of the world.
Strawberry Fields Forever, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and Yellow Submarine—whatever other significance these songs might hold for you, the imagery their names conjure should suffice as explanation. From Beatles hits back to video games and kaleidoscopic panoramas of drug-induced fantasy—it’s all the same to me. Even for the Turbo, a system stacked with high-coloured adventures in cuteness, Fantasy Zone stands out in all its pastel glory. Even the music is hue-adorned and jazzy, though not to the point where you’ll remember the tunes for too long after the unit is turned off.
Shooting enemies earns Opa-Opa Gold Rubicoms (coins) toward the purchase of upgrades for your ship. Enter shops that appear in the sky as floating red balloons (they often feel like the proverbial oasis in the desert) and purchase faster engines (absolutely essential), better weaponry (nice to have, but they have limited ammunition and are not crucial to success) and special items (from Smart Bombs to Extra Ships). Because you simply must be equipped with a good engine, dying takes on a more dubious distinction and consequence than normal; you’ll have to buy back that engine you lost to get ‘up to speed’ as it were, after every crash.
Sure it’s a horizontal shooter, but the screen doesn’t drag you from left to right kicking and screaming. Instead, your movement will coax the screen to scroll in the direction your Opa-Opa decides. That is, if you are moving toward the right, and turn back and toward the left, the ship will do an about face, and the screen will re-adjust (rather smoothly) and pan to the left. This layout helps facilitate your mission for each stage (read: planet), which is essentially the same each time: find and destroy the eight outposts to set the stage for a boss battle. Every area features outposts that are thematically linked to that level, and every outpost takes a ton of hits to destroy, while releasing enemies from within, like a hornet’s nest.
Run the leaf-spewing Wood Man through your laser-powered wood chipper at the end of Plaleaf, the Green Planet. On the Red Planet make sure to crush The Juicer, an end boss that rains oranges down on your ship. Take on a contingent of snowball-hurling snowmen. Face Twister, the tornado boss, and destroy the eye of the storm. Outrun the relentless Deceptor, as his blocky body separates harmlessly, only to merge with you in his midst. In level eight, take on the ‘showcase of bosses’, a typical shooter element, toward your ultimate goal of overthrowing the evil leader to reveal a very atypical, dramatic finish.
The Fantasy Zone franchise rarely makes a misstep, and the Turbografx version of this Sega favourite continues the trend that the inspired, imaginative and initially challenging title has established. Admittedly, while the continue-less contest seems daunting at first, once you’ve learned the game—which shouldn’t take long—it becomes too easy, and the simplistic design is revealed for what it is. This may deter some shooter fans who require constant challenge from their shmups, even on the fiftieth time through. But for others, being able to dash through the brilliant, familiar environs is the ultimate in replay value. For them, Fantasy Zone will become an old friend, who’s always there; predictable, easygoing, a bringer of good times.
Staff review by Marc Golding (September 10, 2003)
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