This article was the first piece I’d written for Examiner.com, and was thus my “audition” piece. As a writer, I find I have two speeds: “Me” and “not me.” That is to say, I either insert a great deal of my voice into my work, or I write as a talking head who might as well be anyone. This is an example of the latter, by design. Just the facts, ma’am (or sir).
As the title suggests, the article was also originally intended to be part of a series called “This Week in Wii”, which would have taken a closer look at the monthly retro gaming releases to the Wii’s Virtual Console. My thought process behind that was to write a relevant set of articles that would gain the attention of hardcore classic gamers, and use the popularity of the Wii to earn hits and, thus, profit. This was, of course, before I realized how much of an uphill battle I would have with getting paid for any of my work there.
Thankfully, my first self-less article for Examiner.com was also my last.
Originally published at Examiner.com on 07/02/2009
This week’s Wii Virtual Console release is a game for the Sega Master System called Fantasy Zone 2 – The Tears of Opa-Opa. A shoot-em-up (or “shmup”) from Sega’s early 8-bit console days, Fantasy Zone 2 follows its cult-classic predecessor by combining game play elements from other popular shmups of the day with upbeat music, psychedelic backgrounds, and surreal enemies. Truly, many of the game’s antagonists (both basic enemies and bosses alike) are more likely to be at home in a Looney Tunes animated short than a side-scrolling video game.
The storyline itself is just as zany as the level design and adversaries. The player assumes the role of Opa-Opa, a sentient spaceship who freed a group of planets (the titular “Fantasy Zone”) from malevolent invaders led by Opa-Opa’s father in the “Space Year 6216”. Ten years later (in this game’s present), the Fantasy Zone has once again fallen prey to an attack by invaders from the planet “Nenon”. Determined to put an end to this new threat and uncover the mastermind behind this most recent evil plot, Opa-Opa speeds off toward the Fantasy Zone once more. It’s all quite melodramatic and a good primer for the game itself.
And what of the “game itself”? For the most part, the levels are as free-roaming as a game from 1987 can allow; the player can move both left and right along an infinitely looping background, similar to the original game. Like the original game, enemies, when defeated, drop money which can be used to purchase weapons and ship upgrades in shops hidden at key points in each level. In order to advance to the boss of each stage, as in the original game, the player must destroy all enemy “bases” scattered throughout the area. A new feature found in Fantasy Zone 2 is the sheer size of each level. Indeed, all levels in the game are broken into three sub-stages (connected loosely by warp zones), with each containing its own unique background and set of enemy bases. Another change from the first game is found in the boss battles. Instead of facing each boss and shooting somewhat aimlessly as in Fantasy Zone, every boss in Fantasy Zone 2 has a specific pattern, weakness, or series of obstacles setting it apart from the other bosses in the game. The basic enemy flying and shooting patterns have also been enhanced, making the game more difficult and, ultimately, more rewarding.
So, is this game worth the 500 Wii Point price tag? While it shares much in common with its predecessor (perhaps too much for some), Fantasy Zone 2 takes the best elements of the original game and gives the player more. Whether it’s the challenging bosses, wacky scenery, or classic shmup action, casual gamers and hardcore shoot-em-up fans alike will find something that makes Fantasy Zone 2 – The Tears of Opa-Opa seem like a steal at its current price.
For more info: Virtual Console at Nintendo – Fantasy Zone 2
For historical context, 500 Wii Points was about five dollars in those days. So, yeah, it was a good deal for a shoot-em-up that you couldn’t otherwise play legitimately unless you bought a used Sega Master System and the game’s cartridge.
As far as the game itself is concerned, I feel the need to comment on the series as a whole (since Fantasy Zone 2 isn’t all that terribly different from the other entries in the series):
I first encountered the Fantasy Zone series (though I didn’t know it was a series then) when I was a child. My grandmother had recently bought me a TurboGrafX 16, and in addition to the two games it came with (Bonk’s Adventure and Keith Courage in Alpha Zone), I received the first Fantasy Zone as a separate gift. Up to this point, my only experiences with shmups had been games like Tiger Heli and Lifeforce on the NES, so I more or less expected an experience similar to those. What I didn’t expect was a wrap-around endless stage that wouldn’t let you proceed to the boss until all the enemies were destroyed, a shop system for equipment upgrades (normally those came with destroying enemies), or the bright vibrant cartoon world of Opa-Opa. As a kid, though, I sort of dug it–and I still do today.
While I don’t consider myself a fan of “cute-em-ups” (the nickname coined for bright, colorful shmups in the vein of Fantasy Zone, like Twinbee), I do make an exception for the Fantasy Zone series due to its unique presentation and robust gameplay. And, probably because of nostalgia.
But it still looks like a hippy’s dope trip.
– Randall Malus, 07/18/2019