Fantasy Zone 3D Review
Revealing a checklist of colors at a time when they were individually counted in hardware specifications, Fantasy Zone is tirelessly cheery. It may as well act as décor in a nursery. The cuteness is decidedly persuasive to its cause.
Fantasy Zone borrows the formula of Defender and makes it less immediate, even gentle. Played to the perky and lyrical rhythms of first generation J-Pop composed by Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Fantasy Zone snuggles in, placing itself amongst the frequently surreal but impossibly catchy arcade output of Sega's earliest productions.
Living asexual spaceship Opa-Opa fits in with Wonder Boy and Alex Kidd. Maybe they're all in nearby universes. All three were even released in 1986 lending credibility to the idea of their connectedness, although Fantasy Zone, may have the most timeless gameplay legs of this trio. Hence, the neccesity of this portable 3D touch-up.
Yes, it is designed for kids. Fantasy Zone is voraciously happy. Adorable was a selling point. In the underbelly though is an exquisite, intelligently laid out horizontal shooter. Intricacies are inherently adult. Opa-Opa buys temporary weapons and new engines, anything to fend off the dreamlike weirdness of offending planet, Menon.
Fantasy Zone is voraciously happy.
By using the color and sound afforded to it, Fantasy Zone becomes hypnotic; gameplay is hyper charismatic and absorbingly eager. Excited sideways motion prescribes an unusual back-and-forth freedom at a time when the genre would begin backing away from such options: Most ships sped off with engines locking them to the right.
Background patterns and destroyed landmarks keep Fantasy Zone visually and accessibly viable for any leaderboard-bound score run. Seven of eight stages mark targets; defeating said targets brings in a boss - it's handsomely done design simplicity. This version of Fantasy Zone even brings in an optional end stage pair once exclusive to the Master System port.
Between the action are a litany of unmentionables – bizarre misshapen heads, rival ships, twisty eyes, pudgy blue bubbles, flowers. Fantasy Zone is a madhouse of rejected sprites too offbeat to fit anywhere else. And yet, they're still precious, even the detached, floating eyes. As for Fantasy Zone 3D, it is Sega's slimmest 3DS remake in terms of features.
But, it is not as if Fantasy Zone carried the peculiar cabinetry of After Burner II. A faux 3D screen bend option is meant to mimic the luxurious curvature of CRTs. The effect works. More importantly though, these 3D effects are overall sensational. The Fantasy Zone itself is given a level of unseen extravagance, stretching back into the horizon line. In particular, stage four's moon setting pops out craters and rounds off each towering mound of landscape decoration. The effect beautifies an already beautiful mid-80s giant.
Fantasy Zone is a madhouse of rejected sprites too offbeat to fit anywhere else
Despite the bounty of color and fetching music, Fantasy Zone's core is about a world in financial collapse. No, really, it is. Villainous planet Menon steals currency after it learns of Fantasy Zone's own economic troubles, a rather alarming and weirdly thoughtful story to merely be tacked on as an afterthought. In 1986, Japan's entry into a six year housing bubble seems to have spawned Fantasy Zone, where money bursts from enemies and seems freely available to all. And yet, it's a warning of how easy it is to be taken away. You lose many purchases when Opa-Opa takes a hit. Even this Fantasy Zone isn't immune to realities.
In that way, Fantasy Zone is resoundingly special and strangely, a social warning, but a gorgeous, wholesome, inoffensive one. It makes a point and voices its perspective without shouting or screaming. Who knew Fantasy Zone would be teaching us how to economically behave 30 years later? And in 3D?