Another Sega port that Should Not Be
RELEASE DATE: 1989
I feel like I should have plenty to write about Fantasy Zone. Shmups are one of my favorite genres and I can play a simplistic 8-bit shooter as readily as I can a modern-day obscenely difficult shooter. Alas, I find myself at a loss for this game. I’ve heard of the original Arcade and Master System versions, and though I didn’t know Tengen had illegally ported Fantasy Zone to the NES, I’m not exactly surprised. Trickery like that runs through Tengen’s veins.
Consider me underwhelmed with this particular port, then. Screenshots of both the Master System and Arcade games look visually arresting, with surprisingly magnificent use of the pastel end of the color spectrum. Both backgrounds and enemies are unique and the gameplay itself is novel: despite most horizontal shooters limiting your directional curve to the right, Fantasy Zone allows you to turn around and fly back to the left. Sunsoft (the company behind the Famicom port) included this mechanic, presumably, because killing enemies generates coins which you can use to purchase better weapons and equipment. Enemies regenerate frequently, so if you really want to amass a bundle of coins, turning around is key. Inspired! While the Nintendo version retains the basic elements of the original Fantasy Zone, I’m surprised at how few enemies there are to shoot, at how bland the colors look, at how slow and pathetic your ship is without weapon and equipment upgrades, and (finally) at the unbalanced difficulty. Stages are too easy, while bosses can be quite difficult. My desire is to love all shmups, so admitting these realities to myself was depressing. Fantasy Zone isn’t unplayable, but it’s definitely an inferior port of what is probably an otherwise fantastic shmup.