What’s Super Fantasy Zone you might ask? That’s a perfectly reasonable question, as this the last in the Fantasy Zone series was only ever released on the Mega Drive in the EU and Japan. This means that were you a genesis owner in the 90’s you probably would never have come across it. I’m not sure why it never received a port, as the Master System games managed the transition fairly well. It finally arrived for US audiences in 2008 thanks to the Wii Virtual Console, and thankfully it still plays as beautifully today as it did before;
Super Fantasy Zone is a cute’em up, which is to say a shooter with a bright and fluffy aesthetic around some very smart and enjoyable action. It’s actually sort of a variation on Defender, where you can keep flying either left or right across the screen and eventually loop back around to where you started. Along the way are enemy generators, helpfully signified on the quasi-map along the bottom of the screen. Kill them all and the boss monster will show up. Kill him, and coins will burst forth in a display of valorous appraisal. You can use these coins and any others you find to visit a store balloon that descends at the start of each stage.
The store allows you to upgrade significant portions of Opa-Opa (I should probably now tell you that you play as a sentient space ship. That’s kind of important), fitting him with permanent speed boosts or bomb enhancements and temporary power-ups like laser cannons and special attacks. Fitting the cute style of the game, these speed boosts range from a large pair of wings to an experimental jet engine, and the special attacks can be something as silly as a massive weight that literally falls from the sky and destroys anything in its path. It’s ludicrous but necessary, as similar to most cute’em ups this game has no problem kicking your ass with its cotton socks.
That pumpkin pictured at the top doesn’t look too menacing, and of course he shouldn’t. He’s a first boss after all. Despite this, he attacks by launching a bullet straight at you, which will then detonate and split into eight more spiralling bullets. I guarantee the first time you fight him that specific attack will send you to your first unfortunate end. I mean having to dodge one of those bullet-splits anyway would be a bit much from a first boss, but actually altering direction as they split apart is really mean. The next boss is no different, with about twenty laser guns that you have to attack almost directly to avoid the impervious armour of his main shell. Once you knock down a few, the rest of the guns then begin to spin around his body to throw you off your aim and on your face.
It’s a harsh game, and that’s not even mentioning the boss rush of stage eight. I can’t even give you a first-hand idea of the final stage of the game because I have never ever made it that far. It does thankfully have an easy difficulty, and you can give yourself five lives from the start, but that’s all you get for free. You’re going to have to decide when to spend your money on ever increasingly expensive weaponry or extra lives and shields to keep you going. Once you’re out of lives it’s all the way back to the start menu for you. No continues. It might be cute, but it pulls no punches.
Overall the production is really solid, especially for the Mega Drive where we’re quite used to making a few concessions in how our games look or sound. The theme music is really catchy and enjoyable, where even the game over music is a satisfying composition. All the enemies and weapons look the part, with projectiles accurately crashing into enemies and generators crumbling to the surface. Hell, if you get Opa-Opa too close to the ground instead of colliding or simply pushing against it, a pair of legs will emerge from the underside of the ship and start running along the floor. There’s more than a few nods to Space Harrier throughout the series, and this is something that holds true here and even all the way up to Bayonetta. The entire missile sequence might play like Space Harrier or even Afterburner, but there’s plenty of nods and even a few musical tracks lifted straight from SFZ.
I could maybe one or two faults with this game (curse you 50hz PAL releases), but I really don’t want to. If you were to play it now I’d say to pick up the Sega Ages Fantasy Zone Collection on PS2 if you have the choice, which not only bundles all the series together but actually remakes a few with rather lovely 2.5D visuals. Even so, the virtual console release is still a treat, and I really encourage you to give it a download and enjoy yourself. And maybe, just maybe, you can beat that $%&!ing boss gauntlet!
The final entry in a highly underrated series, it’s undoubtedly his Magnum Opa-Opus. A