Portable cute ‘em up-ing: Fantasy Zone LCD

I certainly don’t envy the staff of Hashy TOPIN who were asked to create the official Fantasy Zone LCD game – just exactly how do you take a game that’s practically dripping in colour and giant adorable sprites and then successfully translate that to a tiny monochrome screen with beep-boop sort of speaker on the back?

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The answer appears to be “With difficulty”.

The unit is in the same style as Epoch’s Bubble Bobble LCD game, first released in 2005. This is unsurprising as some time around 2009 Hashy appear to have acquired the rights to reproduce/rebrand/expand Epoch’s LCD line under Hashy’s “Pocket Boy” range and the result is a device that’s virtually indistinguishable bar some minor cosmetic corner-cutting.

So it’s out with the brushed metal effect screen surround and in with a plain white bezel with a Fantasy Zone sticker slapped on top. Out goes the paper manual, replaced with a digital version on the official product page. These little changes do make it feel a little less special in a nonspecific way, but they don’t detract from the unit’s pleasantly boxy little form or the perfect pink-and-white colour scheme used – it’s really just a reflection of the need to cut a few corners to make an LCD game based on an IP hailing from the last millennium a profitable exercise.

Other games in Hashy’s “Pocket Boy” range include the likes of Columns, Pengo, Puyo Puyo, Crazy Climber and at least two different versions of Tetris. These releases appear to have been spread out between 2007 and 2014, although as this is Amazon Japan-based information it’s worth taking with a grain of salt (the official web pages for these games don’t include a release date).

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Depending on your point of view Fantasy Zone is either “Straight to the point” or “Cut to the bone” – game options are simply non-existent, with no difficulty select or other modes. The only customisation available is to turn the sound off (or on – no volume settings) and to pause the game for a cup of tea – the game is quite specific about it being paused for tea as the tiny icon shows a very sweet little teacup with some inviting steam coming off the top – no other beverages are allowed!

The play area uses a six by five screen, in that there are six possible columns Opa-Opa can move into and five horizontal rows. The rest of the main play area is crammed full of standard enemy graphics, bases, and Opa-Opa’s weapon fire/bombs. This leads to a few gameplay quirks as enemies can never fire at you (although collision is still fatal) and bases must be destroyed with bombs as it’s impossible for Opa-Opa to be directly in front of a base.

Another change, and one that’s more to do with the LCD format than game design is that the screen only scrolls from left to right so you can’t pop back and mop up any missed bases yourself, you have to wait for them to scroll back around. The good news is they did still include a radar at the bottom of the screen so you can at least see when it’s due to reappear.

Fantasy Zone’s famous shop menu and related power ups were also removed – there’s simply nowhere for them to go! While I feel it’s worth bringing this up I also feel it’s an understandable sacrifice and just one of those things that would never make an LCD game in the first place.

However there’s one issue that’s definitely worth griping about here and that concerns bombing – Opa-Opa’s bombs fire in an arc as they should, but there’s a weird delay and an apparently inconsistent limit on how many and how often you can fire them off which makes base-destroying more about luck than judgement.

Once you’ve finally bopped all the bases a boss shows up, and these are reasonable approximations of their Fantasy Zone counterparts reusing the standard base/enemy sprites in unique ways to form a single giant adversary - it isn’t ideal but nobody who ever played an LCD game was surprised at the need for a little imagination, right?

Simply (ha!) repeat this routine over four stages and that’s it, you’re done!

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This is probably the worst of the LCD games I’ve looked at as this is the first that’s had something feel like an actual design flaw rather than a quirk of over-ambition (Hikouki de GO!) or an unavoidable hardware restriction (Bubble Bobble’s tiny graphics). It’s definitely still Fantasy Zone going on inside that pastel-pink case and at a highly convenient take-anywhere-and-everywhere size so there’s really not too much to grumble about but unlike Bomberman, which I would recommend anyone and everyone grabbing the instant they’re able, I’d leave Fantasy Zone to scarily-committed Sega fans or those living in/visiting Japan and able to pick one up for peanuts.