M2’s Genesis updates have been quite respectable, but it’s the arcade reworkings that have really brought their talents to the forefront. Fresh off Afterburner comes yet another arcade shooter, this time in the fantasy mold, the aptly named Fantasy Zone. If you’re a fan of the SEGA 3D Classics line, this game is for you.

You control Opa-Opa (a sentient space ship, and early SEGA mascot) in this sci-fi rescue quest. Somewhere in the Fantasy Zone a huge fortress is being constructed through misused global currency, which is throwing everything into chaos. Can you put a stop to it and save the galaxy? Opa-Opa Bros. features in the title, and yes you can also play as little brother Upa-Upa … but you must unlock the privilege. It has some remixed elements and subtle changes.

Fantasy ZoneThe power up system employed in Fantasy Zone is unique in several ways. It starts through the collection of coins from fallen enemies which can then be spent on various improvements. There is variety in the upgrades, though their values vary. Some are only temporary, and you’ll need to weigh carefully whether they’re worth the cost, especially as prices increase with each purchase. Being able to use the “Coin Stock” and save cash for later adds a layer of strategy, and thus you’ll likely want to progress through the early levels with just default weapons alone.

It’s hard not to crack a smile while playing Fantasy Zone. With it’s bright pastel colors and bouncy tunes, the game has a delightful presentation. No doubt this charming audio-visual package contributes to the ‘one more time’ mentality and the new 3D effects only help. Though not as striking as some of M2’s other updates, certain levels especially benefit from how the 3D enhances the layered graphics.Fantasy Zone - boss

The game controls well. Being able to scroll both left and right gives the player freedom, but also brings a fresh layer of challenge. And make no mistake, this is a very difficult game! M2 has improved things some with various options to choose from, like higher lives, a save feature, the ability to start from any beaten stage, etc. but this game can still frustrate. Perhaps more than any other M2 update, Fantasy Zone reflects the arcade mentality of destroy the player as quickly as possible. The challenge isn’t always fair either, with hit boxes that are smaller than the enemies, and backgrounds that obscure weapon fire. It’s sure to annoy (especially those experiencing the game new) but time makes it manageable.

Fantasy Zone - gameplayThe manual is largely inconsistent in which elements get explained in details and those that are basically ignored. I mentioned similar in my After Burner review, and I’m reiterating here. I encourage players to try various things early and often to get a complete feel for what the game offers. I also encourage M2 to put more effort into the manuals so they can closer measure up to the games they’re attached to.

Fantasy Zone may be showing it’s age, but it’s charming presentation still holds up all these years later. It’s a worthwhile download, although new players may want to put this on their wish list and pick up some of the other M2 3D shooters that hold up better first. Old fans should consider this an immediate download, as should those looking for a difficult throwback to the golden era of arcades.