Review: 3D Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

Kill your enemies with cuteness… and lasers.

Many know Sonic the Hedgehog to be the mascot of SEGA, but he was not the first. Many believe Alex Kidd was the original SEGA mascot, but while there may have been hopes for him to be at one time, nor was he the original flagship character of the company. That honor belongs to Opa-Opa, the sentient spaceship who was the star of the Fantasy Zone titles and recently featured as a racer in Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing.

Once upon a time, there existed a subset of the once-popular shoot ’em up genre known as “cute ’em ups.” The idea behind these games was very much like shoot ’em ups such as Gradius at their core, but rather than featuring science fiction settings with sleek spaceships, cute ’em ups would often favor brighter and more colorful backdrops with arguably stranger enemies to deal with.

One example some might be familiar with is Konami’s TwinBee/Stinger series, which had its own 3D Classics release around the start of the line in 2011. Another, of course, is Fantasy Zone.

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Though they share a genre and even subgenre, TwinBee and Fantasy Zone are almost like mirror images of one-another. Whereas TwinBee is vertically scrolling, Fantasy Zone is horizontal, and whereas the former’s protagonist is a ship with arms, the latter features a ship with legs, which come into play as it is capable of walking along the ground when not in flight.

Even as a horizontal shooter, Fantasy Zone tends to borrow less from Gradius and more from the likes of Midway’s Defender. Specifically, rather than moving along a set path and trying to survive until you reach a boss, Opa-Opa is basically stuck in an enclosed arena that loops around. Within these confines, he can move left or right and fire in each direction accordingly, rather than the more traditional approach of moving your ship all around the screen with your firepower fixed in a single direction.

Your goal in each level is to move back and forth as necessary, hunting down various enemy-spawning devices and destroying them. Finding them isn’t too difficult; besides simply moseying along until you come across one, there is a map on the bottom screen which shows where the remaining thingamajigs are in relation to you, while the top screen gives you a helping hand– several, in fact, pointing and positioned to show you the way to the next nearest doodad.

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Destroy all the whatsits, and you’ll prompt the level’s boss to appear. Each has a different tactic for trying to take you down, and most call for you to whittle away at some part or another– rotating orbs, a row of laser blasters, etc.– until they’re all gone, ending the boss’s threat. At this point, a bevy of coins fall from where the boss used to be, and you have but a few moments to gather up as many as you can before the stage ends and you move on to the next round in the cycle.

As it turns out, money plays a rather important role in Fantasy Zone. Whereas the power-ups found in most shoot ’em ups have a sense of semi-permanence to them (so long as you don’t die or pick up another), Opa-Opa’s hardware is purchased from a shop instead of found, and only lasts for a brief period upon activation. Extra lives, different types of guns, and new engines which boost your speed (sometimes to near out-of-control degrees) are sold from the floating balloon-like shops that appear occasionally, and while they can be helpful, it would be nice if you could wait before activating select items.

There’s a whole sort of economy at play here that, to be honest, I haven’t fully wrapped my head around. You gather coins from enemy generators and bosses, and can either choose to spend them or bank them, and you can withdraw an amount from the bank as well before entering a stage. Gathering millions of coins unlocks some bonuses, but again, I haven’t quite grasped how the odd sort of spending/banking mechanics work.

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Thanks to the hard work of developer M2, however, taking money out of your bank may not be quite as necessary as it was in the original release of the game. Numerous options have been added, like they do, to enhance the experience. Additional lives, difficulty settings, button configurations, rapid fire, even more rapid fire (through a code), and the ability to backtrack to earlier stages or skip ahead to the last one you reached are here to help make the experience a little more tolerable for those who didn’t grow up with the quarter-munching arcade machines which spawned titles such as this in the first place.

Even with these amenities, however, the game is still pretty tough, even on easier settings. Completing the game does offer more new content in the form of Upa-Upa, the “brother” mentioned in the 3D Classics version’s title here, who uses weapons in a different manner from his brother. There are even two “replacement” bosses who can be fought if certain conditions are met (though I’ve yet to satisfy those).

The other big enhancements to this version of the game, of course, would be the addition of 3D visuals. While the 3D effect is nice, it admittedly doesn’t quite impress on the same level as other SEGA 3D Classics releases such as After Burner II, which is to be expected– the latter was designed to evoke a 3D experience to begin with, after all. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is upbeat and fits the game well, though it might not stick in your ear as much as some other titles.

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Despite being made more for a Japanese audience, Fantasy Zone has something of a niche or cult following in the west, particularly among SEGA fans, and for a good reason: It’s a solid, upbeat, and challenging title that is fun to play and keep coming back to. And as tends to be the case more often than not with M2’s 3D Classics updates of SEGA titles, this may well be the definitive, premiere version for years to come.

The only question is whether the last of this wave of SEGA 3D Classics, the yet-to-be-released 3D Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa, will somehow manage to render this release redundant.

3dfantasyzonecover3D Classics Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Bros. was released digitally for the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS on February 12th, 2015 at a price of $5.99.

A review code was provided by SEGA.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.