Sega went through several failed mascots before finally striking gold with Sonic, but one of their earliest attempts was easily their most unique: A little egg-shaped living spaceship with bird wings and booted feet named Opa-Opa. Unique, quirky, memorable, and available for play on the competitor’s hardware, Opa-Opa’s flagship game was Fantasy Zone, a strange, ultra-cute, very demanding shooter. Despite being an internally developed game, ports were made for MSX, Famicom, and TurboGrafx-16. Tengen later produced an unlicensed version for the NES. For a company with their own game console to do in this today would be downright unthinkable, but it did help the series gain more noteriety than most SMS games.
Aside from being a deceptively difficult cutesy shooter, Fantasy Zone was very much a Sega game. Like nearly every game for the system, power-ups were acquired from shops, spending money dropped by enemies on temporary or single-use super weapons, along with semi-permanent upgrades that changed the way Opa-Opa looked. The game also evoked Defender to some degree, with levels comprised of small looping areas, where the player was required to kill several tough stationary “bases” which spewed forth lesser enemies in each level before moving on to a fairly impressive boss battle. The sequel offered up more of the same, but with shops in fixed locations, while those in the original appeared at random for short periods of time.
Other than the spectacle of having to dodge a hail of bullets from flying turtles and penguins while flying past rainbows, both Fantasy Zone games featured a rather unique challenge in managing a camera that could only be described as “sloshy.” Rather than scroll along with the character, the focus of Fantasy Zone’s camera was on an independent point, shifting as the player changed directions, but given a sense of momentum, unlike Opa-Opa who would stop on a dime.
This could be used to the player’s advantage, using quick turns to slide the camera forward and have more of a leading edge to intercept new enemy patterns, but getting careless late in the game, after buying several engine upgrades, one could accidentally push the camera in this fashion so hard it would loop halfway around the map, forcing the player to play blind until they died, gave it another push, or entered a new area. This of course could be extremely frustrating, but the added concern added an interesting bit of depth to the games.
As happens with mascots, failed or otherwise, Opa-Opa appeared in several other Sega titles, most notably the cult favorite Zillion, a Pac-Man-like game built into later versions of the SMS hardware itself, and as an Easter egg in more recent games like Phantasy Star Online. His original adventures, however, still hold up quite well, and retain the tradition of being ported to almost any platform you can name.
Article by Jake Alley
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