Sega Ages has been steadily growing ever since its inception a few years ago, and regardless of whether you might love or hate the games that are added in each update, there’s no denying the amount of care and love that Sega has been putting into every new release. While not all the games in the collective can be as timeless as OutRun or Phantasy Star, there’s something to be said about having so many classics loaded in one Switch at a time, on the go, with the sheer amount of options that Sega Ages is so good at offering.
The newest update brings two classics to Sega Ages, Fantasy Zone and Shinobi, which were originally released a couple of years apart from each other. Keeping with tradition, these are the arcade versions, and not console ports, even though both of these were released on the Sega Master System shortly after they hit arcades.
Fantasy Zone (from 1985) is the older of the two releases, but it’s the one that I found more playable and fun, weirdly enough. It’s a scrolling shooter that has you piloting Upa Upa, a weird little ship with wings as you explore maps and destroy a certain number of targets before engaging a boss and moving on to the next level.
Compared to other shooters released around the same time, it’s relatively novel in design due to how it has you circling back around the map in order to find and take out targets, instead of automatically scrolling you ahead. If you have never played Fantasy Zone before, you might find it to be slightly confusing to play, since you can only move up and down, left or right, but you can only shoot whichever direction you’re facing. It makes for some frantic combat since you have to keep an eye on the enemy patterns just so you don’t crash into them before having a chance to shoot them down.
Like many arcade games of its day, it’s not that long to beat, something that it shares with Shinobi. This Sega Ages port makes it more manageable to finish thanks to the save/load feature and infinite coin-ups, so even someone like me, who’s a turd at this type of game can make it to the end somehow. There’s also level select in this mode, so even if you fail to beat the game, you can pick up at the start of the last level you played, if you wish.
Even aces will find more to fiddle around with in this version of Fantasy Zone, thanks to the extra modes Upa Upa and Time Attack. Upa Upa has you piloting the ship and choosing upgrades right from the very start by pressing the shoulder buttons, something you’d otherwise have to save coins for in the original version, while Time Attack does away with points, instead keeping time with how long it takes you to make it to the end. Both are fun twists to what’s otherwise a neat little shooter from years ago that’s very much worth having a go for the few bucks it’s going for.
Shinobi on the other hand is a 1987 brawler that started it all for our buddy Joe Higashi, the star of many adventures on Sega’s older consoles, many of which have been re-released over the years, including the Sega Classics Collection back in 2018. In 1980s standards, it’s about what you’d expect: you move to the right, tossing ninja stars at enemies that run and jump straight at you, and you hope not to get hit, otherwise you die and have to start all over. You also rescue captured ninja along the way, all while a clock ticks down. I don’t mean to reduce Shinobi down so dryly, but it is what it is. There’s only so much you can say about this style of game from that particular point in time, and all things considered, it helped pave the way for beat ‘em ups like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, so there’s there’s at least some historical value to it getting re-released, but compared to those games and its own sequels put out on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, it’s relatively primitive.
As pointed out earlier, Shinobi is rather short, and you can beat it in around half an hour. That’s not to say it’s an easy game, but considering it’s an arcade release, it’s about what you could expect difficulty-wise. After all, arcades were always after your quarters. Luckily for you, you have an infinite amount of them in Sega Ages, and even if that doesn’t help you beat the game, you can still save and load scum your way to victory. Yay!
Sadly, Shinobi doesn’t offer as many modes as Fantasy Zone, and the one it does offer adds only a little bit of replay to the game. Sega Ages mode gives you a white ninja shit that lets Joe take more than one hit before dying, along with a gun that fires 1-hit kill projectiles. It’s a nice distraction that will make it even easier to beat the game, but given its already short run time, there’s only so much you can do to make it last longer.
Both releases to the collection offer online leaderboards as well as the possibility to watch replays of the top scores, a nice way to learn the best routes through these games. I found it to be especially neat to check out how these guys (and gals, I guess!) managed to get through Fantasy Zone so quickly! You’re also able to set a number of options in regards to number of lives and difficulty in order to suit your needs for both games, along with the option of hiding enemy base locations from the map in Fantasy Zone, which I honestly think is crazy, but whatever rocks your boat. And hey, if you’re the sort of player that likes playing multiple versions of the same game, you’re in luck as both allow you to pick from USA or Japan, which can vary things somewhat depending on the revisions made at the time for different markets.
As with other Sega Ages releases, Shinobi and Fantasy Zone look as sharp as 35 year old games can be made to look these days on HD displays. M2 is a master when it comes to emulation, so I don’t even have to mention the sheer number of display options that are at your disposal in these releases, but here I am doing so anyway. You can pick from a variety of graphical filters and ratio options, as well as different screen borders. There’s even online manuals in case you need one, but I’m sure you won’t have any trouble, frankly, the last time you consulted a manual for anything other than setting up your VCR’s clock, right? You know what a VCR is if you’re playing these games, admit it.
I’m anticipating something big will hit Sega Ages in the next update, so until then, I will haunt the leaderboards and learn all of your pro Fantasy Zone strats! Mwahahaha!