Monday, June 1, 2009

Fantasy Zone (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Sega
Published by NEC in 1988

Yet another port of Sega’s classic side scroller, and yet more of the surreal cutesy fast paced action! This is Fantasy Zone for the PC Engine, my friends, and it’s just the second game in the series that I decided to play seriously, after the great initial experience I had with the Master System version.

Essentially it’s the same game, just improved due to the superior PCE hardware. The most notable highlights are the better graphics and some gameplay elements that did not show up in the SMS port: improved score/money display, a stage radar with all the enemy generators to be eliminated and a damage indicator in each one of them (in the form of a built-in blue sphere that turns red as the generator health is depleted). Other significant changes are the bosses for the 4th stage (here a 2-armed beast instead of the giant fish) and the 6th stage (here a revolving wheel instead of a giant turtle), which are actually no changes at all and retain the characteristics of the original arcade version.

One can argue about how superior this port of Fantasy Zone is to the SMS game, and I agree with that to a certain extent only. Since this port still lacks the gorgeous parallax of the arcade, one of the points that bugged me is the color palette in stage 5, which makes it difficult to distinguish the somewhat smaller enemy bases and made me crash into them a lot. I also feel the music could’ve been better, and I still prefer the more simple SMS tunes for the sheer fun of it. It’s hard to explain, but if I put both games side by side and pay attention to the music I’ll definitely be more motivated by the SMS BGM renditions.

The PC Engine version is also harder. Like the arcade, now it allows a bit of vertical screen displacement and adds an extra bit of difficulty as you roam across the stage to find the bases. The game doesn’t have the "all speed engines" trick to gain infinite ammo, and that also says a lot about difficulty. Therefore, using the turbo function present in some later PCE controllers is a huge temptation, because it does make the game a lot easier to play. Facing the challenge without it required a completely different approach from the one I used when I beat the SMS port. It’s still a lot of fun, but then again… I would certainly stick to the Master System Fantasy Zone if I had to choose between one of them!

Some last notes about the PCE game: upon completion, your remaining money is converted into lots of points (I could not figure out how exactly, sorry) and the game leaves you completely stripped down for the 2nd loop: just your current life, no money. The worst thing in my longest run on the 2nd loop is that the only shop icon I saw was the first one - when I had ZERO $ - and then no shops until I died on the 3rd stage!

I have included 2 high scores here: the first one was achieved WITHOUT autofire, and the second one WITH autofire. That said, the next step in my Fantasy Zone adventure will be on the Sega Saturn. Arrivederci.

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