Sega Ages Fantasy Zone Greatly Enhances One of Sega's Hidden Gems
Fantasy Zone is a hidden gem, so its Sega Ages release on Nintendo Switch gives players the perfect opportunity to try it.
The lack of Virtual Console on Nintendo Switch is disappointing, but it has allowed for more robust re-releases of retro games. Sega has slowly but surely been re-releasing its classic games over the past couple of years under the Sega Ages brand. These M2 ports not only preserve and emulate the original experience as much as they can but also add new content for players to experience. Sega Ages versions of Shinobi and Fantasy Zone were released today, and both come with enhancements that make them worthwhile. I will be focusing on the Sega Ages Fantasy Zone here, though you can expect to hear Senior Staff Writer Iyane Agossah’s thoughts on Shinobi soon.
While games like Galaga, Galaxian, and R-Type are typically remembered as the shoot ’em up classics, I’ve always had a soft spot for Fantasy Zone. I’ve just also been enticed by the “cute ’em up” style Sega coined with this game. Fantasy Zone has seen various re-releases over the years, most recently as part of the Sega Genesis Mini. Most of these have just been fairly straight ports for consoles, mainly changing things only when a downgrade to fit certain hardware was required. That’s the nice thing about the Sega Ages version of Fantasy Zone: it adds to an already great experience.
If you just want the classic Fantasy Zone experience, it’s here and emulated well. You can take to the skies of various colorful areas as the bright and revenge-fueled Opa-Opa, and all of the weapons and upgrades to improve your ship can still be unlocked if you have enough coins. I’ve always enjoyed Fantasy Zone’s levels as they loop around and let players take out their targets in any order. Fantasy Zone has a lot more freedom than most shoot ’em ups, and that customizability is enhanced further by all the different weapons and ship upgrades players can purchase. This re-release on Nintendo Switch is a great opportunity for any shoot ’em up fans who missed out on the original to finally experience this hidden gem in both the genre and Sega’s catalog.
M2 has always been on the top of their game when it comes to emulation and it isn’t any different here. I never ran into any technical issues during my time with the Sega Ages version of Fantasy Zone, so it really felt on par with the original arcade release. Nintendo Switch ports can wildly vary in quality, and even retro games having flawless ports isn’t a sure thing. M2 has yet to put out a disappointing Sega Ages title; couple that with the enhancements this version of the game brings with it and you have one of the best versions of Fantasy Zone ever released.
To start, the new bosses and the new playable character Upa-Upa all slot into the game well and don’t feel out of place. It’s always risky to make direct content changes to a beloved game upon its re-release, but the ones present in Sega Ages Fantasy Zone are for the better. Another cool addition that works with the basic version is the Coin Stock bank. This lets players start runs with extra cash; in turn, this allows them to buy movement upgrades and new weapons earlier than usual. Fantasy Zone can get really difficult at a couple of points, so this feature is just as useful to veterans as it is intended to be to new players.
Outside of basic mode, you can try out Upa-Upa mode to play as Opa-Opa’s brother and play with some slightly different parameters. In Upa-Upa mode, sub-weapons and movement upgrades are unlocked at all times but require coins to use. While it may be easier to take down some enemies with all weapons at your disposal, this makes Fantasy Zone a resource management focused shoot ’em up. It’s a refreshing take on both the genre and core Fantasy Zone experience, and I ended up spending a lot of time in this new mode.
The last major mode addition is Time Attack, which seems times how fast you can get through the entire game. Considering how quickly skilled players can get through the whole game, I’m sure die-hard fans and speedrunners will enjoy this mode. This mode is also the most closely tied to the game’s online leaderboards, which are a necessary edition for any arcade-style game released on modern consoles. Fortunately, Fantasy Zone still remains a lot of fun for those who aren’t always aiming for the best time or score.
While major Sega releases tend to revolve around their biggest IP like Sonic and Yakuza nowadays, Sega Ages gives them a great opportunity to reintroduce some of their great lesser-known franchises of a whole new base of players. Fantasy Zone is one of these great, underrated titles, and all shoot ’em up fans who haven’t played it before should try it out now as Sega Ages Fantasy Zone packs in a lot of fun new features and only costs $7.99. If all re-releases were as good as this, people wouldn’t miss Virtual Console.