I’ve bought a number of games on the Wii Virtual Console, and aside from games I have actually played in my youth, I’m not positive that I’ve seen the endings of any of them. My reflexes may simply not be up to par versus 25 years of difficulty that combines fast reflexes, the skill to develop said reflexes, and old-fashioned luck. I was put to the test when my friend visited yesterday and she and I took to a SEGA Master System game from 1986 called Fantasy Zone.
Fantasy Zone was originally an arcade game that, going by its Wikipedia page, was ported to many consoles of the day (including the Nintendo Entertainment System, although it is not licensed and appeared under the “Tengen” brand). The Master System version is available on the Wii Virtual Console at 500 Wii Points.
Two players can enjoy Fantasy Zone, although it’s a matter of Player 2 waiting for Player 1 to lose a life before it’s their turn. Players control a ship called Opa Opa (I like saying “Opa Opa!” out loud) through eight levels in a much brighter, friendlier, more colorful version of what resembles Williams Electronics’ Defender from 1980. Shoot the enemy bases located throughout the stage while avoiding and shooting at as many enemies as possible. Defeated enemies drop coins for the player to spend at the shop that appears in the stage as a red orb. Upgrade Opa Opa’s engines for speed, wings for movement, and weapons for more firepower. In true retro gaming fashion, upgraded weapons are on a 15-second time limit which might not be useful for boss battles unless you get really lucky. Fantasy Zone has such a cute and radiant look about it that it almost seems like it uses it against you, as my friend and I came to learn that Fantasy Zone is a ridiculously hard game.
The only way to lose a life in Fantasy Zone is to take one bullet hit or simply touch the enemy, familiar to anybody who has played a side-scrolling shooter in the last two decades. That will seemingly happen a lot. I was using a Gamecube controller throughout my entire experience while my friend operated the Wii Classic Controller. I couldn’t tell you whether that was an improvement over the Master System controller. Regardless, Fantasy Zone is still a test of skill, some luck, and knowing where to place the pixels to avoid any kind of contact with the enemy. In our earlier runs, I was struggling, watching Opa Opa slowly fire its default beam and crashing into things I didn’t know were enemies. Then after looking at the on-screen manual, we discovered rapid fire! Rapid fire meant blazing through stages until the boss wiped the floor with us on some capacity. I very much enjoyed how surreal the bosses looked: stage one has what is basically a leafless stump version of the Whispy Woods boss from Nintendo’s Kirby games. It fires… well, we’ve decided they’re nuts — cashews or chestnuts, maybe. The second boss shoots its red nuts while shielded by blue walnuts. My favorite boss is probably the army of snowmen that come out of nowhere by round five.
The thing that really got my attention about the game is that it had a backstory that is represented by scrolling text when the main menu is left idle. In the “space year” of 6216, the “interplanetary money system” had collapsed and a group of menacing creatures is stealing money from all planets, so Opa Opa is sent to destroy these creatures who want to build an enemy fortress in the Fantasy Zone. So, somewhere in their solar system, planets are on the brink of economic collapse because of a small percentage of beings, and money taken back from these beings goes into (Opa Opa) defense spending. I wonder if the people that this affects are protesting at a park somewhere. Just kidding. Maybe Ronald Reagan was their leader! Okay, I’m done!
It’s unfortunate that I don’t have any real nostalgia for Fantasy Zone, since I was strictly a child of Nintendo in the ’80s. In fact, I don’t remember what drove me to purchase it on the Wii Virtual Console in the first place! I’m guessing my friend did recommend it to me, otherwise I might have confused it for another Master System game. Sometimes I do manage to confuse it for the Wonder Boy series. Fantasy Zone is such a great example of retro gaming. Highly recommended!