Genre: Shmup Developer: Sunsoft Publisher: Sunsoft Players: 1 Released: 1993
<Sigh>…Another great game that never came to America. What was wrong with Sega back then, anyway? The game was in English, as were the manual and insert. Why did gems like this stay across the pond while drivel like Green Dog: Beached Surfer Dude got released in the U.S.? It’s a question we may never answer.
Anyone who is familiar with the Fantasy Zone series will feel right at home with the Mega Drive sequel. Controls are essentially the same and the premise has not changed at all. After O-papa, (Opa-Opa’s dad) is killed by the returning Dark Menon (sounds like a perfume company), little Opa takes on the mantle of space savior and sets out to finish the job his father could not. Using all his skill and armament, he battles through ten stages of baddies in order to eliminate Menon once and for all.
So the story isn’t the greatest, big deal. This is a shooter and as such, all that matters is blowing things up in quick succession. Actually, anyone expecting huge explosions will be disappointed here. SFZ doesn’t play like your typical shooter and that’s actually a good thing. Sega kept the formula of the first two Master System games intact, instead focusing on upgrading the graphics, sound, and overall experience. That, in my opinion, is what was needed here.
The graphics are somewhat cutesy, with bright colors, lots of flowers, and about as non-offensive an enemy as you’ve ever seen. Honestly, I think Dark Menon couldn’t have found a more unintimidating army if he tried. The day people run scared of huge barrels and flying grouper fish is the day humanity deserves to be conquered. Parallax is very well used and while the level of detail isn’t tremendous, the game looks great (even better in s-video). Everything is so brightly colored and simple-looking in style that you think the game will be a breeze, never feeling threatened at all…
…until you get to a boss.
Whatever challenge the stages themselves lack, the bosses more than make up for. See that fish in the photo to the right? As only the level three boss, he can quickly ruin any run you intended to make at finishing the game by swatting down a few of your men in the course of a few seconds. Defeating the bosses here takes time, knowledge of their attacks, and most importantly, the right weapons!
Luckily, you can upgrade your standard shot and bombs at a shop that drops out of the sky at the start of each stage. Since everything you kill drops coins, you will find yourself dodging enemies in a mad dash to grab that big sucker that looks to be worth a bundle. Most items have a standard price but some, like an extra life or really powerful weapons, increase in value each time you take one. For instance, a 1up costs $5000, then $20,000, then $50,000. If you don’t have a lot of cash, you will be in a pickle in the later stages, so finding cheap and effective armament is essential. Laser and wide shots, dual bombs and missiles, as well as various engine types can all be purchased at the shop.
All you have to worry about is one button for firing, one for bombs, and one for your special weapons. This set up is very effective and I liked the fact that the developers kept everything very simple, giving the game that much-needed “pick up and play” feeling. Opa’s stock speed setting is way too slow but there are plenty of items for sale in the shop to remedy that.
Sega wisely took most of the original soundtrack and either included it here or remixed it to great effect. The boss theme booms through speakers now, while the shop theme is softer and more relaxed (a nice touch for your only safe haven in the game). The original “Opa-Opa” theme is here, of course, along with a few other songs from the first game. Each stage’s tune is very catchy and compliments the graphics nicely. Again, there is never a feeling of dire need or desperation in this game. It seems that Opa is going to save the world whenever he gets around to it and at his own pace. The entire ambiance of the game is so relaxed and enemies look so harmless that you won’t feel any edge-of-your-seat, twitchy, zen-like states at all.
I’m very pleased with my copy of Super Fantasy Zone and recommend it wholeheartedly. The PAL release is the way to go, as everything is in English, but a lack of knowledge of Japanese won’t hinder you in the slightest if you buy that version. As shooters go, diehard fans of the genre might feel the action is a bit too slow. Once you adjust to the game’s pace, however, you’ll find that there’s a great little shmup here that commands your attention.
SCORE: 8 out of 10