Fantasy Zone SMS
Review by Dave Giarrusso Sega Shooter
Graphics: 5 Sound: 3 Gameplay: 6 Overall: 5

I went through a stage a while back where the only game I played, in addition to a daily dose of Robotron, was the Sega Master System version of Fantasy Zone. Why? Because it’s impossible, and evidently, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Fantasy Zone, a largely unseen coin-op shooter produced by Sega, (our neighborhood arcades had two Joust2 machines, but no Fantasy Zone uprights…) is the story of Opa Opa (the Player) and his or her quest to rescue the “Fantasy Zone” from its enemies. In order to accomplish this daunting task, Opa Opa (a spaceship with wings and stubby legs) must destroy the enemies while hoarding the coins that they often, but not always, leave behind once they are defeated. Collected coins can then be used to purchase power ups, for example, bigger wings, larger engines, laser beam, wide beam, 7-way shot, or dual bombs.

Each level contains several “generators” (Menon bases) that must be destroyed in order to face the end of level boss, who, once defeated, allows the player to begin the next level, where the entire sequence of events plays out again with increased difficulty and a new boss character. At the end of the game, the player faces all of the previous bosses in succession before confronting some sort of steroid-enraged Snafu creature that continually returns after its defeat until… Until, I dunno what. I haven’t yet succeeded in defeating this “final” boss, and I dunno if I ever will. Fantasy Zone is “impossible.”

Strategy? Destroy all the generators as quickly as possible, even if it means ignoring a lot of the smaller value coins in the process. The faster the generators are destroyed, the more their coins will be worth. Evade, rather than engage, the enemy. Avoid purchasing anything except for the dual bombs, which are very cheap, yet very effective, and extra ships. The other weapons are temporary, and, in the event that the player gets ambushed upon exiting the shop, a needless waste of coinage that is better spent on reserve lives. The wing and engine upgrades are a very good way to make controlling the ship an even more difficult task than it is at the outset of the game, but if you like headaches and don’t need the extra ships, go ahead and buy ‘em.

Oh sure, FZ looks innocent enough, and quite manageable, before playing it for the first time, but once the game begins, beware! The neon colors and cutesy, cartoony graphics are just a mask for the terrible demon that IS Fantasy Zone. In fact, it looks so tame compared to, oh, say, Defender, that one has to wonder whether Sega purposely created this wolf in sheep’s clothing in order to create a more subtle quarter sucker than, oh, say, Gauntlet, which blatantly advertises the fact that more coins are needed in order to get anywhere. Fantasy Zone LOOKS easy, but it isn’t. Therefore, the enraged player will continue dropping quarters into the slot while saying, “Damn! This funny looking game with the toe-tapping soundtrack isn’t even difficult! All I need to do is shoot those stupid generator things!” Before long, enough quarters for a week’s worth of laundry have disappeared into the dark recesses of Fantasy Zone’s gullet. At least Gauntlet begs for quarters: “Warrior - needs food - badly!”

The Master System incarnation of Fantasy Zone is a very respectable translation of the coin-op. Sure, it isn’t quite as pretty, and the backgrounds disappear when fighting the bosses, and some of the animation is absent, and the screen no longer scrolls up and down, but for the most part this cart looks, plays, and sounds like its arcade counterpart, right down to the slightly awkward control. If the control was just a little bit better, the game would be about half as difficult. As things stand however, it’s a challenging contest that will have lots of gamers up all night determined to beat it with the “just one more game…” approach. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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