Sega’s enthusiasm for the 3DS continues unabated, which means that gamers have another excellent port-with-extras from the technical wizards at M2 available on the Japanese eShop: the twenty eight year-old Fantasy Zone. As we've now come to expect, this 3D remake is a port of the arcade version of the game with incredible attention to detail; containing both the Japanese original and international versions of the game, sprite flicker when the screen gets overloaded with enemies and a neat optional visual effect that recreates the curvature of an old CRT TV. It’s a testament to M2’s porting prowess that features like these are almost expected of them now.
But what makes these 3DS re-releases exceptional isn’t just how accurately they recreate the original experience, but how well they integrate new modes and features into them too. Just as the likes of Galaxy Force II and After Burner II before it, Fantasy Zone has a wealth of options to tailor the game to your liking as well as offer a whole new way to play a game that’s almost thirty years old.
But before we discuss altering the game, it might be worth having a quick refresher of the standard way to play first. Fantasy Zone is a horizontally scrolling shoot ‘em up, although instead of being forced through the usual left-to-right scrolling Fantasy Zone lets you freely fly Opa-Opa in either direction through a small stage that endlessly loops. The object of the game isn't to destroy all enemies – something that’s not even possible with the infinitely respawning waves of baddies – but to seek out and then obliterate the enemy bases dotted throughout each level. Once these are destroyed a boss appears and the player must shoot at the weak point to blow up their screen-filling foe.
Unlike a lot of older shoot ‘em ups, power ups don’t drop from defeated enemies in Fantasy Zone — they drop coins instead. These coins are then used to buy power ups from a shop that occasionally floats into view — anything from speed ups and lasers to Fantasy Zone’s signature 16t weight as well as an always-welcome extra life, so long as you can afford it. With the exception of the speed boosts most power ups are either on a timer or have limited uses, and as all of these handy bonuses are erased when you die it pays to think before you buy.
If extra weaponry simply isn’t enough (and it might not be – underneath the brightly coloured visuals Fantasy Zone is at its core an old-school arcade game) or you just want to take it easy M2 have given players the option to change the default number of lives, difficulty and shot speed before starting a game, as well as the ability to start from any level previously reached, allowing gamers to practise a tough stage or just to replay their favourite. Coins accumulated in-game are added to an all-new coin stock which can used to unlock even more helpful options in the main menu as well as used to boost your starting pot of money if desired.
The greatest addition is saved for those with the skill to beat the game, and is also the reason behind the new “Opa-Opa Brothers” subtitle – Upa-Upa mode. You may be surprised to learn that a spaceship with feathery wings and feet has a brother, but it’s true. Upa-Upa stars in an all-new mode that does away with the power up shop completely and instead uses the lower screen to allow players to switch between weaponry at will – for a price. Upgraded shots are charged by the second and bombs per use making this an incredibly expensive way to play, but a welcome one that adds a fresh twist to a much-ported classic.
3D Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Brothers is in many ways business as usual for the talented folks at M2, which means that we have another excellent arcade port in the palms of our hands with some thoughtful extras that add to the original without ever tampering with what made it so compelling in the first place. Without doubt this game is essential for any 3DS-owning shoot ‘em up fan.