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Fantasy Zone (Sega Master System) artwork

Fantasy Zone (Sega Master System) review

"A couple of nights ago, I was playing Fantasy Zone on the Master System. I leaned back in my gaming chair while in the item shop and found myself tapping my feet and drumming my fingers to the catchy music. Observing my actions, my wife asked what I was doing. So, I let her have a listen, she agreed the music was catchy and we did a little dance. It was a great, whimsical moment that likely will bring a smile to my face for many days to come. "

A couple of nights ago, I was playing Fantasy Zone on the Master System. I leaned back in my gaming chair while in the item shop and found myself tapping my feet and drumming my fingers to the catchy music. Observing my actions, my wife asked what I was doing. So, I let her have a listen, she agreed the music was catchy and we did a little dance. It was a great, whimsical moment that likely will bring a smile to my face for many days to come.

Then I sat back down, left the shop and was promptly killed.

Fantasy Zone is a cute shoot-em-up with lots of sharp, pointy teeth (literally, if you consider the fish boss). If you look at the round, soft-looking, brightly-colored shapes in the background and think you’re playing some sort of sissified shooter, you’re wrong. It’s short and starts out easy, but it can become downright brutal if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Each level has a simple objective. By taking a quick tour of any of the game’s horizontally-scrolling regions, you’ll see a number of enemy-generating devices before the screen wraps around and you start over. Your mission is to destroy those things, with success resulting in you getting a one-way ticket to that level’s boss. While virtually all the little enemies take a mere one hit from your basic double shot, these generators can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

Early on, they’re still quite easy to destroy. None of the minor enemies are capable much more than flying around aimlessly, so you can easily shoot each and every generator without worry. However, once you get to the third level, things get a bit more hectic. Not only do the enemy patterns get a bit more devious, but they also start taking an active interest in put a stop to your antics. You’ll soon see the screen occasionally get a bit cluttered with gunfire as you’re now forced to constantly dodge bullets and collisions while raining death upon the generators. By the time you’ve reached the last couple of levels, odds are you’ll be ducking a constant barrage of enemies and bullets while trying to lodge a few bullets into any given generator.

But that’s where the shops come in. Whenever you score a certain number of points, one descends from the heavens. Enter it to find plenty of ways to upgrade your little ship (charmingly named “Opa-Opa” -- I hope you weren’t expecting this game to enhance your testosterone levels). Buying wings or engines will allow Opa-Opa to fly faster. Those upgrades are super-cool because they’re permanent.

Now, when you look at the weapon upgrades, things get a bit more complicated. You can buy a number of improved bombs (up to nine at a time), with each one costing a bit more than the previous purchase. While you’ll always have an unlimited number of basic bombs, you’ll have to be very careful in using the store-bought models. After all, there’s no point in wasting some destructive device that cost a few thousand dollars on some one-hit drone. More powerful guns are different in that you buy those upgrades for a small duration of time (roughly about 15 seconds), so you’ll find yourself trying to cause as much damage as possible in a short amount of time.

Typically, you’ll get to enter the shop at the beginning of most levels. Personally, I found myself buying a laser and a few of the heavy bombs and then using the laser to wipe out as many generators as possible. When its power had run out, I’d be reduced to hit-and-run attacks on the generators while (hopefully) dodging some pretty intense counterattacks. After finally making it to the boss, I’d usually shoot it a few times with the basic gun and then finish it off with a heavy bomb.

You see, the heavy bombs might be a bit costly to use in every boss fight, but you seriously don’t want to mess around against those guys! Most bosses tend to move up-and-down or back-and-forth while shooting stuff at you, but if you take too long, they decide to take the fight to you. Abandoning their initial routine, the bad guy now will home in on you -- a tactic which easily can lead to your death in the blink of an eye.

Anything that leads to your death is something you likely want to avoid in Fantasy Zone (sez Captain Obvious), especially if you’ve bought some bombs. You lose all your optional weapons upon dying, so if you had a few heavy bombs in reserve, get ready to bemoan the thousands of dollars that just got flushed down the crapper. Of course, this leads to one of those “vicious circle” problems. Do you invest all your money into bombs and risk losing it all OR do you only buy a couple at a time and risk entering a boss fight without enough ammo to win quickly? I tell you, it’s more thrilling than the stock market!

Fantasy Zone is one of those games that best can be described as simple fun. Just take a peek if you don’t believe me. The backgrounds are bright, colorful and full of soft, gentle shapes. The seventh stage is particularly beautiful with waterfalls cascading down bright green islands that are drawn TOO WELL to be in an eight-bit game. It proves to be quite a wonderful distraction from all the airborne death being sent your way by the enemy. Bosses are large and somewhat cartoonish in appearance (although the awesome backgrounds aren’t on display for these fights), while the regular enemies include tiny birds and other less-inspired creations.

But, Fantasy Zone really is the sort of game that never could amount to anything more than a diversion. There simply is no depth to this little shooter. You have a total of eight levels, which seems sufficient until you realize just how short they are. The few generators on each level are placed pretty closely together and a skilled, aggressive player could likely take them all out in a matter of moments. Each of the initial seven levels are essentially identical in theme, while the eighth is nothing more than a boss gauntlet. While the graphics are pretty, they don’t really give the levels separate themes. Instead, it’s like playing the same level repeatedly with the difficulty level rising whenever the abstract art in the background changes.

Fantasy Zone is a fun and cute game that really stands out as a visual and musical powerhouse among other shooters of its time while delivering a surprising amount of challenge towards the end. However, it’s just a bit too simplistic and short to really be considered one of the best shooters of the eight-bit generation. It’s a great game to play if you want to sample a stylish shooter and you don’t have much time to spare, but if you’re looking for something with substance on the Master System, skip this game and take a stab at its port of R-Type. Regardless, Fantasy Zone does deserve respect. As a fan of the TwinBee games, I was astounded at how horrible the first game in that series was. In the case of this series, Sega did a respectable job with the first installment and then simply improved upon that formula as time passed.

Rating: 7/10

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (March 25, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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