Review Information
Reviewer Name: HotDiggerdyDamn
Reviewer Email: Private
Game Difficulty: Medium
Difficulty Options: False
Game Information
Full Title: Fantasy Zone: The Maze
Year Released: 1987
Game Type: Puzzle
Max Players: 2
Introduction


Fantasy Zone is one of my favourite Sega licenses, one which I wish they’d get on with doing an update/reboot of, so, naturally, I’m glad there’s a fat trilogy to be had on the awesome Master System. Now which ever way you look at this, being an unfortunate or fortunate turn of events for the series, part three of said trilogy (or ‘The Maze’ as it’s know) changes the formula more than a little bit – always a dodgy move for a series so close to so many people’s hearts. So is it a simple Pac-Man clone or is there more to The Maze than first impressions would suggest? Luckily I’m here to provide you with a few answers, so read on and get the scoop on what many consider the black sheep of the Fantasy Zone family.
Gameplay
So it’s a Pac-Man style up to the third in the series of the fantastic Fantasy Zone then is it? The original two games, as many may already know, are a precursor to nearly all kooky shoot ‘em ups such as the fantastic Parodious series or the equally impressive Twinkle Star Sprites, etc. In fact it seems that this type of bright, inventive use of the humble shmup is a good move to make considering the successful results that have been garnered thus far in the subgenre. So is it sacrilege and/or an extremely bad move on the part of the creators of the series to shift the focus to something more constrictive and generic? Well there is no easy answer to that it’s a yes and/or a no depending on which point of view you look at it from...

Firstly you can look at it from an aesthetic point of view; sure the bright colourful levels we’ve all come to know and love are now covered by the hideous black vacuums of ‘The Maze’. These mazes could have been integrated in a more cohesive manner e.g. the walls could be made up of elements of the worlds they’re set in, plant vines, sand banks and moon rocks. However on the flip side of this argument the enemies of their respective home worlds are all in play, the bases, the mini enemies, nearly all are faithfully represented in all but stature and the coins, weapons and shopping system (although slightly modified) is in place. All this is very nice and there are points for and against the whole aesthetic P.O.V. However the shopping system leads me onto my next point quite nicely.

There are a couple of new weapons and pick-ups throughout the game that are really cool additions. There’s a fireball weapon that engulfs Opa-Opa and sends him/it hurtling in which ever direction you choose bringing fiery death to anything it touches whilst enabling you to get to pick ups and coins at hyper speed. Then there’s a lipstick looking weapon (unfortunately my copy of the game doesn’t have a booklet so I don’t know the official names off by heart) that acts as a sort of smart bomb blitzing everything on the screen leaving precious coins behind. Now while all these weapons (and more) are awesome additions to say the least I can’t help but want to see them in a full blown Fantasy Zone game.

Finally there’s the sense of reward, namely a nice ending that leaves you feeling triumphant and satisfied like a hot, dirty, sex session. There is no such thing in here. Much like Pac-Man this just goes round and round and is all based on score, which if I’m honest without a save system feels slightly redundant. You complete all the levels and all of a sudden you’re back to Plaleaf which feels like a major kick in the love spuds. I play retro games to crush them underfoot and have a rock hard/enjoyable time doing so, but this never ending gameplay just feels far too old hat and unrewarding for my liking. It’s very rare that I have someone to score battle with on a game as most of my retro game loving friends prefer their awesome Megadrive’s or their suitably colourful SNES’s.

Lastly, one of the most important points I feel we as fans of the series have to look at is that instead of leading the pack with innovative shmup mechanics and visuals Fantasy Zone is now following the pack by semi-cloning older titles. Fair enough you have the weapons system and the whole collecting money to finish levels (although this is just another form of dots and power-pills) which then enables you to buy bigger and better weapons as the levels increase in difficulty and the weapons increase in price, but this is all much of a muchness. So other than the semi lit bonus levels that require you to hunt for coins in the dark before moving on to the next world F.Z.3 is pretty much a modded Pac-Man. Lets look at other elements in the following sections to see if it brings something else to the table that shines some light on the decision to follow the route the creators did.
Graphics
The graphics are sharp and functional, nothing more, nothing less, most of the action in this department is going on in the semi maze-clouded backdrops. The enemies are well represented enough and often there’s a lot going on on screen and there isn’t even a sniff of slowdown, and if there is any flicker I didn’t notice. The weapons look cool, especially the aforementioned fireball weapon and again have no effect on the silky smooth speed of the game as a whole. As each world begins you get to see Opa-Opa flying over the planet and the prices of the weapons on that particular world, but again this makes you pray for some maze-free, boundless, Shmup action…no such luck. A point I feel I have to make here is that the worlds look to have been mostly redrawn and not just dumped from previous titles in the series which is nice.
Sound & Music
Happy tunes and suitable blasting sounds will be making their sweet way to your sticky little ear drums. The music is based on previous games and as such fit nicely with the action and should be familiar to fans of the series. Sometimes for me the sounds are a little plinky plonky and could have used a bit of tuning, but all in all they’re pretty good and full of essential gaming energy.
Controls
The controls are sharp for most part but due to more open spaces in the mazes it is not always possible to guide your vessel round the invisible grid that the movement is based on. This can make dodging enemies and maneuvering in general a bit of a nightmare at times and can cause more death than is necessary. Also pressing forward to keep your speed up is a bit of a nuisance in my opinion as it makes navigating the corners and dodging enemies a bit of a dodgy, inaccurate, affair at best. Other than these niggles which are sporadic, though non the less annoying, as I’ve said the controls are tight as a ducks arse underwater.
Replay Value
Scores
Gameplay
Graphics
Music & Sound
Controls
Replay Value
The game has no ending therefore you play till you’re finally overrun and outrun by the enemies or run out of dosh and have no way to defend yourself. So theoretically it’s a never ending game but how long you’ll keep going without any real viable reward is another matter all together. My wife and I both love enjoyed playing this game together as we found the two player mode to be much more fun than playing it alone. If you’re a high score monster then you may get much more of a kick out of it than I did, but for all of you are like minded and like a challenge with an incentive for your hard work, other than a bunch of numbers, you’ll find your love for Fantasy Zone the Maze far less than unconditional.
Conclusion
Overall the switch in style, for me at least, is refreshing but not so much that it replaces the urge to go back to the first two far superior installments of the series. All in all the game answers the question of ‘did we need a change in direction or just more worlds more weapons and more innovations’ itself with a resounding ‘No, no we didn’t.’ Fans of Pac-Man and other maze based collect ‘em up, score fests will probably find much to love here, but fans of the series will get limited enjoyment from the experience and pop it on the shelf just so their collection looks that bit more complete. It’s a sad state of affairs when developers get things so wrong and misjudge what fans expect of a solid sequel, especially when they had such a good foundation to work on. If you’ve got a Megadrive/Genesis and aren’t, like me, a ‘gotta have ‘em all’ Master System collector then I’d suggest you skip this one and go for the far superior, and fitting, Super Fantasy Zone and save yourself a bit of a head scratcher. Not a bad game at all just not Fantasy Zone amazing.
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