Monthly Archives: May 2014

Block Rockin’ Beeps – Super Fantasy Zone: Boss

Track Name: Boss
Track Composer: Naoki Kodaka
Game: Super Fantasy Zone
Platform: Mega Drive
Sound Chip/System: Yamaha YM2612

Fantasy Zone is an extremely cute game. A bright chunky game of cartoon art and silliness in which you play a sentient spaceship with wings named Opa Opa! It’s a scrolling shooter, very of its time, and part of the early days of Sega’s famous blue sky charm. It has an oddly morbid premise at times, but you’d never really notice it for all the shining happiness it presents while playing, it’s even been said to be a “Cute-em-up”.

The series is a relatively forgotten part of the Sega library. It’s been represented here and there since the final major game in the series, Super Fantasy Zone on the Mega Drive. Opa Opa’s theme song appeared in Samba De Amigo on the Dreamcast, the character was unlockable in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and in March a 3D remake of the original arcade title hit the 3DS eShop in Japan. Even with that it’s not something many modern gamers particularly know or care about, which is true of a lot of the early Sega arcade library, and it’s a shame because there’s a lot of quality lurking there.

A cute game tends to begat cute music and, for the most part, that’s true in Super Fantasy Zone. Each level has a delightful, bouncy theme but the surprise comes when the boss appears and this theme kicks in:

This is unexpectedly bad ass! The driving base and drum fills just scream action and fun intensity. It doesn’t take a turn into a grim or maudlin emotional sound, but it ramps up the sound of fighting and communicates to the player that you’re not up against one of the regular cannon-fodder enemies.

Whether it’s fully fitting is kind of hard to decide. It’s undoubtedly a great simple ass-kicking track but it’s a little odd to have this pumping out your speakers while you’re fighting a flying Jack-O-Lantern wearing a little pumpkin crown. It fits to the difficulty, to the actions and importance, but thematically, especially when only taking the visuals into account? Perhaps not.

Still Naoki Kodaka clearly had fun creating this boss ditty and whether it’s entirely suitable or not it’s an entertaining tune that suits the Mega Drive hardware perfectly.

Spec Ops: The Line – My Thoughts

Well I’ve finished Spec Ops: The Line.

Visually, it’s excellent. The art direction in creating Dubai is strong and it has a love of using extremes of colour but not to a point that feels cartoon-like, just stylish and evocative of the image of grandeur that Dubai fostered.

For the rest of it, it’s a complicated one. It’s a third-person military cover shooter. As with any game that wants you to consider the actions you’re undertaking it does have to go to lengths to make those actions at least entertaining enough to keep you playing. So mechanically the game feels solid, not great, but solid. Still they want you to consider the ramifications of military actions, of killing and of command.

Does it succeed? Sometimes, yes, very well. It’s much better than the ham-fisted binary GOOD/BAD that exists in many games. It tries to tell you the story of your character, Captain Walker, and give you moments to choose his role and actions, yet sometimes it purposefully takes choice away from you. You’re never meant to feel like you are Captain Walker, you are always watching him, it keeps distance in a way that I feel works nicely and is served well through choosing to keep the game third-person.

It’s story isn’t groundbreaking. It takes inspiration from Heart of Darkness and, in turn, Apocalypse Now and the ideas that you are presented with are not new. It is, however, still effective. Choosing to examine actions through the guise of existing games, even under the name of a prior military shooter series, works in a way that a heavily abstracted or fantastical setting does not. You enter with into it with a larger context, a wider range of existing content that carry with them certain notions and ideas. Even knowing right from the off that the game will try to tear that apart, it still gives it a baseline to draw from.

It isn’t completely successful. I felt that towards the end it was having trouble keeping the ideas up to the length of the campaign, which is pretty short, but still they were clearly having trouble. Sometimes the messages felt heavy-handed or delivered without quite the thought that they would need to be truly effective. Also despite a lot of talk of the game’s ambiguity, I didn’t feel there really was all that much, it messages and concepts were clear, even when they were delivered less-than-ideally and peripheral questions of specifics aren’t especially interesting or important to the wider picture.

It feels like assessing the game on it’s pure interactions or failures in gameplay would be colossally missing the point. Clearly they’re a part of it but now I’ve played through I find myself not caring about them, they’re not what I took away from this and I doubt I was ever supposed to.

I feel good that writing this has proved challenging. While not haunted by the game, as some might say they were, I am still thinking about it. I’m still assessing the experience and feeling that it has given me something, which is in stark contrast to many games.