Anyone who has seen or played Fantasy Zone will instantly recognize the insanely cute graphical stylings of an insanely difficult game (one of the few games that belong to a genre called, appropriately, “cute-’em-ups”). It has a long and very checkered history, with ports onto almost a dozen different platforms, including the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Megadrive, and of course, an appearance in video arcades. The 3D release of this game has now been released on the 3DS, and I get cute to bring this review to you.

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Fantasy Zone II, originally released in 1987 for the SEGA Master System (and then ported to arcade, PS2, NES, and MSX), was a highly popular shoot-’em-up featuring sentient space ship Opa-Opa. The story becomes fairly intricate, but it boils down to “kill things, acquire upgrades”. In each stage, you need to destroy all the bases in the stage while avoiding all the other enemies that spawn juuuuust off screen. Behind some of the bases are warp zones to a “dark side” of each area, allowing you access to a more difficult level of play (and by extension, the good ending of the game). Bases destroyed on each side stay destroyed on the other. As you destroy enemies, coins appear, and collecting them allows you to upgrade Opa-Opa. The upgrades aren’t permanent, though, and losing a life means losing the upgrades. Dying can be expensive. Well, it used to be, if you had been playing a prior port of the game. In this 3D version, you can actually bank the money you don’t spend, and then “withdraw” it at the start of each game, making it easier for you to buy the upgrades sooner.

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The biggest difference in this version of the game is an endless mode titled “Link Loop Land”, which remixes the game around for you, so you’ll be fighting bosses in odd orders, or find that the bases can fly around in groups. Your kills also create chains of bonuses, meaning that the better you fight and fly, the better your score at the end. You’d think that a seemingly “tacked on, endless mode” would be an afterthought that’s less fun than the original game, and you would be so very, very wrong. It’s ridiculously addictive, and the fact that you can make scads of cash very quickly certainly helps a lot. The really huge downside here is that you can’t really go up against your friends in an online leaderboard, although you can post screenshots of your scores to Miiverse if you wish (a far from ideal solution, I’m sure you’ll agree).

The game is pretty, in an LSD-induced, trippy way. The graphics are reminiscent of the original arcade sprites, and not the PS2’s vector-based remake. I prefer the sprites, really, because the artwork seems more authentic. It’s still colourful as a rainbow to the face, and this is one of the few games where I insist that you turn the 3D setting allll the way up. The screenshots here don’t do any justice to just how gorgeous the 3D is.

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Overall, it’s great fun, and for the price, a great amount of entertainment. Don’t be fooled by the Dali-on-Anime cutesy graphics—this game is still difficult enough that you will have to get by on skill, despite the crutches it gives you in the form of the bank. And after all of it, you’ll be a better player for it.

Final Score: 8 sentient prawns out of 10

Detailed Information:
Developer: SEGA
Ported By: M2
Publisher: SEGA
Platform: Nintendo 3DS Family
Age Rating: 7
RRP: R65 (3DS eShop)
Website: https://www.nintendo.co.za/Games/Nintendo-3DS-download-software/3D-Fantasy-Zone-II–984116.html