Released April 14, 2008 / $5 / Version Reviewed: Wii Virtual Console
Original Release: Master System / 1986
Before Sonic or even poor Alex Kidd, Sega had a mascot of sorts in the form of a technicolor spaceship with wings. This charming sentient ship was known as Opa-Opa, and was introduced to the world in the arcade release Fantasy Zone.
Fantasy Zone combines the “go anywhere” (in this case meaning right OR left on a 2D plane) shooting of Defender with a bright, strange, pastel world unlike anything else released at the time. Staying on the classy side of colorful, Fantasy Zone’s visual style is incredibly striking, even today.
What’s also pleasantly surprising is that the Master System port of the game captures all of the charm and surrealness of the arcade version with almost no sacrifices. It plays great as well; while the handling of Opa-Opa takes a bit of getting used to, once you become comfortable with the game’s physics, control becomes a breeze.
Opa-Opa also becomes easier to handle and more effective as you purchase upgrades for it. Enemies drop coins after you destroy them, which can be used in the randomly-appearing shop to buy everything from firing and speed upgrades to extra lives. The game’s screen-filling bosses drop loads of coins when destroyed; a satisfying reward for defeating them.
Also a well-deserved reward, as the bosses in Fantasy Zone are tough, and since the game uses a checkpoint system, if you are blown up during the fight, you have to begin the (sometimes lengthy) fight again from the beginning. But even taking the challenging boss fights and lack of continues into account, the game never feels overly frustrating or unfair- the bosses have discernable patterns and proper use of the upgrade system can transform Opa-Opa into a very formidable winged pew-pewing jelly bean.
Being a Wii Virtual Console release you can count on two things: perfect emulation and absolutely no frills. The game doesn’t/does disappoint on both levels. While the lack of region-swapping, online leaderboards, achievements/trophies, etc. are a bummer, the quick boot-up and absence of load times make this port a very “pure” experience. As per usual, the in-game “Operations Guide” is instantaneous, attractive, concise, and gives you the (meager) amount of information required to understand the game flow and structure. Although, as is the case with nearly all Virtual Console games, it could stand to be a buck or two cheaper.
While Opa-Opa may not have stood the mascot test of time, the Master System version of its debut has. Visually appealing (with a chirpy, memorable soundtrack to match) and challenging, Fantasy Zone is an excellent purchase for fans of colorful 2D shooters and Sega history alike.