Thursday Jul 02, 2009
Three new classic SEGA games have recently made their way to the Wii Virtual Console and are available now–Galaxy Force II, Space Harrier, and Fantasy Zone II. Galaxy Force II and Fantasy Zone II are from the Genesis and Master System, respectively, and Space Harrier is the original arcade version.
Let’s start with Space Harrier: This is a near perfect example of everything that made SEGA unique in the field of arcade games back in the 80s. Nothing else has ever looked quite like Space Harrier. It has the straight-ahead fighter style of games like After Burner, but replacing the ship/plane with a flying guy holding a laser cannon who navigates alien worlds, thusly:
This is the epitome of quarter-eating obsessive arcade action. The Wii version has the bonus that, by simply clicking the trigger button the Wii remote, you can add “quarters” to the game–meaning you can gut your way through no matter how many times you die. And unless you are a highly skilled twitch-gamer already adept at bullet-curtain style shooters, you will die plenty of times.
Considering the difficulty of the game, that’s not a bad move–and yet, there’s still a great deal of challenge in the game for anyone who wants to try to finish with the more traditional 3 lives. Or, if you’re really hard-core & old-school: get a stack of your laundry money and give a quarter away for every extra life you get. Be warned that Space Harrier is a difficult enough game that this approach may leave you quite rank after a while, which may help add to the nostalgia factor of playing this game in dark, seedy arcades.
If you want to see the dizzying maneuvers put on by a pro at Space Harrier, check out this video of someone playing the last 3 levels of the game.
In the same vein as Space Harrier is Galaxy Force II, which is a little more like After Burner in space. This is another trippy-looking game, with a unique targeting system that causes each shot to home in on multiple enemies at once, provided you can wait for them to be targeted. The game is based around your fuel gauge and your ability to speed up & slow down, and the need to get through each stage before running out of fuel. All the elements work together quite nicely, and this is a great example of the basic engine behind After Burner being expanded upon and given a unique look and feel.
I’ve saved my favorite game of this bunch for last, though. Although I certainly have fond memories of Space Harrier (the Master System version, even!), it’s Fantasy Zone II that is the strangest, most psychedelic game of this trio of incredibly psychedelic games. I covered, in a retro/nostalgia piece a while back, the original Fantasy Zone for the Master System, and this sequel (still from the Master System) basically improves on everything from the original.
It’s a side-scrolling shooter, replete with whimsically designed enemies and stages that look like they’re made out of sentient blocks of candy. The music is inspired and the gameplay, which involves deft weaving in and out of swarming mobs of pastel and technicolor bad guys, is oddly hypnotic.
The full title of the game is Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa, which is a reference to the ending of the original game. A quick refresher, for those of you not up on your SEGA history: Opa-Opa is the title character, and was actually the official mascott of SEGA up until a blast-processing-powered Erinaceinae took that title.
At the end of the plot of the first Fantasy Zone, Opa-Opa defeats the leader of the invading force only to find out that it’s his father (an enormous version of Opa-Opa himself), who, filled with regret over leading an invading force of flying cupcakes against the peace-loving Fantasy Zone, sheds a single tear before dying.
Last note on Fantasy Zone II: This game looks really good, with (almost alarmingly) bright colors and crisp sprites. The Master System may have been dwarfed in terms of sheer numbers by the NES, but boy howdy, it had incredible color and sound.
All three of these games have a very through-the-rabbit-hole aesthetic. They go nicely with some other recent Virtual Console releases, which I can’t help but highlight here:
The Wonderboy games were always a kind of neat hybrid of side-scrolling action with odd little RPG elements — collecting items and upgrading weapons and armor — thrown in. One can think of Wonderboy as the more naturalistic (naked) cousin of Alex Kidd.
One can safely call Clay Fighter a visual feast. A fighting game with a fine sense of humor that squeezed everything it could out of the Genesis.
All of these games are available now for the Virtual Console!
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