Fantasy Zone is a colourful scrolling shooter from 1986. It was created by Sega and it looks simple and cartoony, but is in fact very challenging.
The main character, Opa-Opa, is sometimes referred to as “Sega‘s first mascot” and is very similar to the one seen in the earlier TwinBee. Both TwinBee and this game have been credited with the creation of the “cute ’em up” genre, and that is probably not too far from the truth.
The aim in Fantasy Zone is to destroy ten alien bases on each level, which then leads to a boss battle.
Destroying the bases is no easy task, though, because waves of alien defenders will spit bullets at you to try to stop you. If you blast the aliens (before they blast you) they will often drop coins which you can then swoop down to pick up, before they disappear. Collecting money allows you to buy speedups and extra weapons when the store balloon appears (I’m not making this up…), which is usually at the beginning of a new level.
There are eight stages in total, each getting progressively harder. It has to be said that the first stage is no pushover, and subsequent stages are a serious bullet hell challenge. Fantasy Zone is another wolf in sheep’s clothing…
Boosting your offensive capabilities – and speed – are essential to survival in Fantasy Zone. Engine upgrades are permanent, but some weapons only last for a certain amount of time and the timer starts from the moment you leave the shop. Luckily you have a primary and secondary weapon and these can be chosen from a list when you leave the shop. If you lose a life: you lose your upgrades, which is always the problematic thing about progressive weapons shooters.
Expect some frustration with Fantasy Zone. It’s much more difficult than it looks, but it still plays great now.
A sequel, Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa, was released for the Sega Master System in 1987 and later ported to arcades in 1988.