Saturday, 7 April 2012

Fantasia (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

A Week With... Fantasia
The most exciting title screen in the history of video games
Ever.
Year Released: 1991
Developer: Infogrames/Sega
System Featured: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
Also available on: Nothing
Now available on: Nothing

Last year, I spent a week playing The Terminator on the Sega Mega Drive, and each day of that week, I wrote down my thoughts and opinions about the game. I've decided to revisit this idea, this time plumping for a game that many wouldn't even consider playing for ten minutes, let alone a week. That game is Fantasia, a game released back in 1991 for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. In an era of amazing Disney-licensed games (Castle of Illusion, Quackshot, World of Illusion, Aladdin), Fantasia is the one that seemed to get released without any product-testing beforehand. Rumour has it that it was actually withdrawn from sale a few months after its release, although, apart from reading this in an issue of Mean Machines once upon a time, I've never read anything else to confirm this. Fantasia is widely regarded as being a massive failure, the dark sheep in the Mega Drive's flock of fantastic Disney tie-ins. But, it's a game that I actually remember with a certain level of fondness, and so I've decided to see if I can rekindle some of this love for it.

But before I get on with my first day's report, here's a bit of a back story. Back in the late 1980s, I received a Sega Master System for Christmas. Although it never worked properly due to having a faulty power button, I still loved it. In 1990, I upgraded to a Sega Mega Drive and it wasn't long until I discovered the wonders of Castle of Illusion, a game which remains one of my favourites even today. I read in a magazine that Mickey Mouse would be returning in a follow-up. That follow-up would be Fantasia, and preview screenshots looked fantastic. More than likely, as I was only 12 at the time, I drooled at the images in my magazine. It wasn't until the following year that Gladiators started and I discovered the joys of gazing at delights such as Jet, and realised that there was something more beautiful in life than video games. Anyway, I believe that Fantasia came out in the summer of 1991, shortly after Sonic the Hedgehog. To raise funds to purchase both Sonic and Fantasia, I traded in my faulty Master System and its games. As I recall, Sonic was released first, and it kept me entertained for many days of my summer holiday that year. Fantasia was released probably around August time, and I think I picked it up on its release day, even before I'd seen reviews of it in magazines. I didn't believe that there was any way the game could be bad.

 
This part of the game's last stages is about as far as I managed
to get back in the early 1990s
I got Fantasia home, popped it into my Mega Drive, and readied myself for some platforming perfection. It didn't take me long to realise that something had gone incredibly wrong and that Fantasia just wasn't the game I expected it to be. Still, back then, when you'd spent £40 on a game, you had to make sure you got your money's worth, and I persevered with the game. I got used to the game's controls, its dodgy collision detection, and began to figure out where I could find the notes required to complete the game's gigantic levels. And, I actually grew to tolerate it, even enjoy it, and have some fond memories of it. Not because it was a good game, but because it was a game that I dedicated so much time to. I wasn't going to let it beat me, and I was so used to the game's quirks that they didn't bother me anymore. I never did complete it, although I believe I came within inches of doing so, and from what I gather, the ending wasn't worth it anyway.

So, here we are in 2012, 21 years after I first played the game, probably 20 years after I last played it (I ended up swapping it for ToeJam and Earl a year or two after getting it), and it's time to see if I can grow to enjoy Fantasia again. And here's my experience from Day One.

Day One: Sunday 1st April 2012
Mickey Mouse, AKA The Sorcerer's Apprentice, is on a mission to locate musical notes that have been stolen by an evil wind while he slept. No musical notes, no music. His adventure will take him through many of the scenes of Walt Disney's animated spectacle, Fantasia. And its many characters. And it all takes place as a dream. And that's the plot.

The aim of the entire game is written in these four lines
This is pretty much the plot I've put together from the text on the back of the game's box and the text in the intro to the game. An intro that lasts all of 10 seconds. The intro features a harsh-sounding rendition of Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which begins the game's theme of using classical music for its soundtrack. After the short introduction, a rather uninspiring title screen pops up, and then a demo begins if you wait long enough. Like Castle of Illusion, before you start the game, you are taken to the game's options screen. You have the option of setting the game to Very Hard (listed on the options screen as "Easy"), Ridiculously Hard (Normal) and Impossibly Hard (Hard). You can also change the number of lives that Mickey has, which are known as dreams in this game. It is set at 3, although you can only decrease them, if you feel man enough. You can also decrease the number of continues, again set as default at the maximum of 3. You can also change what button does what. As the default, A is the button for a little spell, B is for a big spell, and C makes Mickey jump.... eventually.

Options! Options! Get yer options 'ere!!!

Mickey is pondering whether to walk slowly, turn slowly
or jump slowly.
And then it's onto the game. Level One begins in the Sorcerer's workshop, and sees Mickey quickly coming against an onslaught of foes which take the form of dancing toadstools, buckets and brooms, and cauldrons. And in the background is a horrible rendition of The Sorcerer's Apprentice tune which sounds like the Mega Drive's audio chip is thumping to get out of the console so that it doesn't get abused any more. Still, the graphics on this stage are actually quite good, with some nice foreground parallax scrolling, which sometimes obscures the action, but that's more than likely the reason it's there.

Enemies! Enemies! Get yer enemies 'ere!
It doesn't take long to realise why this game is so widely derided. The controls are awful. You'd expect that a character in a platform game will respond immediately to your commands. But, in Fantasia, Mickey Mouse has a certain sluggishness about him. There isn't a delay in reacting to your commands, but there is definitely a short "build-up" to Mickey fully complying with whatever action you're wanting him to do. This is most noticeable when jumping or changing direction. When jumping, it's as if Mickey has some chewing gum stuck to his feet, and when changing direction, rather than just instantly switching to face the opposite way, the game features a quick animation of Mickey turning. Impressive as it may be, it just doesn't suit the type of game. In a game like Flashback, it works, but in Fantasia, it's not good. The problem with Fantasia is that each level is ramjammed with enemies. Take a look at the pictures to the left for example. Or the picture below.

Reminds me of a dream I had once. Unicorns, blue cupids and windy heads.

Now, if you're a platforming fanatic, you'll probably get moist in your pants on seeing the challenge that these screenshots present, the opportunity to wipe out all of the nasties scattered around them. And it could be quite fun if Mickey controlled well. But, as he doesn't, it isn't that much fun at all. Exacerbating things even more is Mickey's method of attack. He defeats enemies by landing on their heads. However, this isn't a Mario-style head-landing, where you need to do little more than just land on top of the enemy. It isn't even a Castle of Illusion bottom bounce, where you simply press the jump button a second time to ensure that Mickey's ass comes into contact with your enemy's head. Nope, in Fantasia, you have to push down. This doesn't sound too bad, but carrying it out in the game just doesn't feel right. Another problem is that you need to land at least twice on each enemy to get rid of them (unless you play on easy, but that's cheating). This means that to defeat them, you have to hang around to complete the second attack. As there are so many enemies around, and they seem to just come at you endlessly, there is little point in attempting to clear the screen of as many as you can. So instead, you just kind of use the enemies as platforms, and bounce on them throughout the game. Mickey can also destroy enemies by casting spells. You pick up "spell points" by collecting gigantic spell books that fly through the levels. A small spell costs 1 point, and appears completely useless when casting them at an enemy. I can appreciate that 1 spell point might not destroy an enemy, so a second is required, but the first spell could at least stop the enemy in its tracks or force it back a little (thus readying you to leap on its head), or even just show that it's taken a hit. Instead. once you've cast a spell at them, they just carry on coming at you. with no visible sign that you've caused any damage to them. So, you end up using big spells, which cost 3 points. These do usually have the desired effect, but as picking up spell points is quite rare, you tend only to use them as a last resort, instead keeping to the strategy of bouncing through the levels. Argh! So frustrating!!

Camoflauged somewhere here is a frog. Fortunately, Mickey has just collected a note and is invicible, for about 2 seconds.

Underwater shenanigans ahoy!
Anyway, that paragraph was a little longer than I expected it to be, but I thought I'd explain in depth exactly what I think is wrong with how the game controls. Getting back to the game, and after a bit of practice, I eventually got to the doorway at the end of the Sorcerer's workshop. After which, it's time to pop outside, and hop across lily pads, crocodile heads, seagulls and erratic platforms. Like the first, this level has nice graphics with a soundtrack that doesn't sound quite as horrible as the first, but is still not pleasing to the ears. It's basically a softer version of the theme from the first level. There are a couple of portals in the level which take you underwater. To be fair, Mickey doesn't control too badly underwater, apart from if you try to turn, in which case he suddenly loses his buoyancy, and if you get hit by an enemy, there's little chance you'll recover and you'll end up bumping into every other enemy you come across. Underwater, Mickey can collect pearls. What for? The idea of the game is to collect notes. But, I can only find one note in the entire first level, yet when I get to the end of it, I've apparently found four. Maybe the pearls double as notes. I'll come onto the note-collecting a little later. But first, let's get erratic.

As mentioned above, Fantasia's levels are full of enemies. Something else it has its fair share of is moving platforms. Although the enemies and platforms have their own individual patterns, they are never the same as any enemy or platform of the same 'breed'. And their patterns of movement appear to be quite erratic. Some enemies will move slowly, and then suddenly speed up. Or they'll jump a little bit, and then jump a bit higher. Or they'll hover over your head, and then suddenly fly at you, for no reason at all. Or they'll just move in one direction, and then decide to change direction. And the platforms; rather than just gliding smoothly in the gravity-defying way that platforms in video games tend to do, they also move slowly, and then speed up, and then move slowly again. Or they'll stop moving as soon as you step on it. Or motionless ones will start moving. Or they'll just drop to the ground. Or you'll step on one and something else unrelated will take place on the screen. There's no logic to which platform does what. You just have to memorise their movements for when you replay the level. The only way of getting through the levels without doing this is just to keep jumping through them. Again, it's like having to bounce your way through the level on the heads of your enemies. It's more a case of getting through the levels rather than playing the levels. And of course, the game's bad controls makes doing this even more difficult.

Scattered sparcely through the levels are stars which allow you to replenish some of your energy. However, keeping with the theme of everything being put into the game just to annoy you, the stars have a habit of moving just as you're about to collect them. And then suddenly changing direction. You probably lose more energy trying to collect a star than you would have if you'd have just left it. And, what how much energy do the stars give you? Some give you 1 energy point, some 2 and some 3. Which does what? There's no way of telling. Bizarre!

The treasure chest of doom! Or endless repeating of the
same level! Avoid!
So, when you've reached the end of the lily pad level, you're back in the Sorcerer's workshop for more of the same. There's a bonus level to be found in a doorway on this level, which gives you an opportunity to collect some magic and stars. And have a breather. When you've collected them all, or come into contact with an enemy, you return to the normal game, and eventually come to the door to the end of the level. But no, this isn't the door to the end of the level. It looks like one, just like the door at the end of the first version of the same level. But, going into it takes you back to the lily pad level. Grrrr!! No, you didn't want that door - you wanted an identical door a bit further along the level. You should have known that. Dumbass! So, back in the lily pad level, seeing as that's where we are now, there's another opportunity to collect the note from it. There's also a point in this level where you think you've discovered a secret location (by jumping into an open box of treasure) only to find that it's actually taken you to a point a bit further back on the same level. Yep, you'll discover this "secret" once, and then remember to tell yourself never ever go into it again. Logical? No. Frustrating and pointless? Yes.

Eventually I got to the end of the second Sorcerer's workshop, and went through the correct door to meet the conductor waiting for his musical notes. And I handed him four notes, that I'd somehow found, although I only recall finding one, or maybe two if we count the one from repeating the lily pad level. But, this isn't enough. The conductor wants more! So, he sends me right back to the beginning again, to find more notes for him! And this is when I realise why you may need to keep jumping into that treasure box - to repeat the same section of the game and keep getting the same one note. After doing this a few times, and sometimes - accidentally - going for a swim in the underwater stage, I returned to the conductor, to find I now have loads of notes to give him. Quite where I found all of these notes, I have no idea. I also have no idea how many notes the conductor actually needs to let me through to the next stage. But it seems that he has enough, and I'm on my way to the next stage.

My! What a big foot you have!
The following stage is a prehistoric-themed level, with dinosaurs flying over your head, or just randomly swooshing down to take it off (this is what happens when Mickey waves his Gregg's steak bake around). There are giant dinosaur feet to walk under, or jump over, or just to walk through and deduct some of your energy. And there appear to be a number of bonus levels, or sub levels, or whatever. One of them has fireballs flying around, with you having no hope of ever avoiding them. It also appears to have platforms that are invisible and only appear when you successfully land on them. I didn't last long on this level. The other sub level isn't quite as dangerous, but is still a nightmare. But it seems to contain quite a few notes, so it's worth playing through, just to build up your collection. This is pretty much as far as I got on Day 1. Part way through Dinosaur Kingdom, or Dino World, or Jurassic Park, or wherever it is. I would say something about the music on this level, but I think I'll save it until tomorrow.

DAY 2: Monday 2nd April 2012
So, day two of my week of hell. Okay, it's not quite up there with the one John Bishop did recently for Sport Relief, but it's not going to be easy to get through. Yep, it's time for more fun and frustration with Fantasia. Despite the game obviously winding me up yesterday, there's something about it that has drawn me back to it. Instead of a feeling of dread at having to tackle the game again for a second day, I've actually been looking fotward to it.

I'm not really sure why this is. Maybe I'm a crazy sadist. Or maybe it's because, now I've finally got the hang of the game's horrible controls, and am starting to make sense of all of the illogical stuff that's been put into the game with no other purpose but to annoy the crap out of me, I feel that it's a game I want to master. I think, deep down, there is a good game hidden there. Deep deep down, that is. However, although frustrating and unfair games usually piss me off and I give up with them, I feel that I want to take Fantasia on. I'm not sure if I'm trying to prove a point to the game's developers that no matter how hard you try to make a game as absurd and unplayable as you possibly can, it's not going to beat me. Or maybe I'm trying to prove to myself that, seeing as I was able to get quite far into the game when I was young, I should still be able to do it now. And I'm not going to rest until I better my younger self. Yes, my week with Fantasia is a challenge, not a game.

Despite being the main attraction, Mickey still has to do
battle with crocodiles and seagulls before he can gain
entrance to DisneyWorld.
So, how did day two go? I managed to get slightly further than yesterday. I whizzed through the first level, even without accidentally sending myself to previous parts of the same level. Somehow, even though I'm sure I didn't locate any extra notes to the previous day, I managed to collect the required number to let me through to the second level. Just to clarify level one's level structure, it goes a little like this:

1) Sorcerer's Workshop stage
2) Lily pad stage, containing two underwater sub-levels, plus one secret passage to a previous part of this stage
3) Sorcerer's Workshop part two, which contains two bonus levels, one located in a clearly-marked doorway, the other as a random part of the background graphics. This stage also contains a doorway taking you back to the lily pad level.

There be bonuses in that there door, there be.
Level two takes place in Prehistoric times. It is just one level, with prehistoric birds attacking you at random, and features three sub levels. Like level one, this is another bitch of a level, and some of the sub levels are just plain evil. The first appears to take place in a cave and is where you can find a number of musical notes. There are some drops where you have to take a hit on your energy. This is one of the several frustrating elements of the game. Whereas in other games, you only lose energy when you make a mistake, in Fantasia, it's actually necessary for you to lose energy just to progress. This seems to take something away from the game's, I don't know, integrity. That might be the word. Basically, it feels like it is cheating you out of energy. Whether you're a good gamer or not, there's no way to complete the game without deliberately having to take an energy hit just to get over a certain point. The good thing about this level is that, as there are a number of musical notes, and a couple of stars, you can also replenish your energy quite easily and gain some lives (a musical note awards 3 energy points & 1 life - you can have a maximum of 9 of both). And also, when you leave the level, you can re-enter it, to collect even more notes. This may be a good way of completing level two, as the other two sub levels are nasty. As you can only enter sub-levels by touching fairies (ahem!), you can avoid entering them by avoiding the fairies, instead just repeat the easiest one over and over again until you think you have enough notes to satisfy the conductor at the end of the level. If you do decide to tackle the sub levels, the second takes place in a room where balls of fire woosh around your head. Logically, you can bounce your way through this level, and hope you have enough energy to take the collisions that you will most definitely have in it. The reward for this level? Two stars! Two pissing stars! All they give you is one energy point each. I used up 8 to get through the level. The final sub level in level two appears to take place in a desert, with background music that sounds nothing like it came out of Fantasia - the movie. There are cactus legs walking across the ground, prehistoric birds randomly crapping stuff on you, or swooping down at your steak bake, and some highly annoying insects. No matter how calmly I approached this level, with the intention to take my time and time my attacks, I always ended up almost throwing my control pad at the cat in frustration. I don't think I came too far to the end of the level, but I didn't complete it. Argh! So, that's how far I got today. Still on level two, but a little further than yesterday.

The first of level two's sub levels. Balls!

Another of level two's sub levels. Fireballs!

The third of of level's two's sub levels. And a cactus leg is about to creep up on Mickey.

Something I will add before I sign off is that the music on level two is once again horrible. It's a rendition of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, listening to it with earphones reveals that, very faintly, there is some attempt at putting together something melodic and making it a bit special, a very quiet symphony in the background. However, the part of the tune that dominates throughout the level sounds like it's being farted out of the backside of one of the prehistoric lizards that feature in this level.

DAY 3: Tuesday 3rd April 2012
Today, I made quite a lot of progress in the game. In fact, I very nearly completed it, and think I even got further than I ever managed to get when I played the game all of those years ago. And, reluctantly, I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed it.

Once again, I got through level one, collecting 6 notes, somehow. I suppose I kind of cheated my way through the prehisteria of level two. Or it feels a bit like I cheated. I repeated the first sub level a couple of times to build up my note collection, and skipped entering the other two sub-levels (yep, it is possible to skip these just by not walking into the fairy that causes you to enter them). I actually did this purely to find out how large level two actually is, but found that the end comes quite soon after the third sub level. I left the level, and found the I'd actually got enough notes to complete it, so I went onto level three.

The end of level two. Not sure where I managed to find all of those notes, but I'm not complaining.


A spot of island hopping here. And another bonus level.
After the violence of jurassic earth, level three is much lighter in theme and style. Apparently each of the game's four levels are based on the elements. Level one is based on water, hence the mop and bucket people walking around, as well as the lily pad level and its underwater sub levels. Level two is based on earth, and uses prehistoric Earth as its theme. Level three is based on air, and feels suitably airy-fairy, with dancing flamingoes and hippos and trees and all of that kind of stuff. The background music on this stage and its sub levels is a selection of familiar classics, although, once again, aren't the most pleasant of renditions. What makes this level stand out from the rest is the fact that it scrolls vertically (upwards or downwards). For this, you'll be required to bounce upwards on the heads of enemies, although there are some clouds - with typical erratic movements - to assist. As enemies still insist on moving seemingly randomly, there are occasions when you accidentally jump into them, just because their movement pattern isn't easy to predict. That said, it isn't really that difficult to progress through this stage, and you might think that you've contributed some well-honed gaming skills to doing so, whereas in fact it's actually more fluke and luck that gets you to the end.
It's that dream again. Only this time with weird dancing beans and toadstools.

The Biggest Loser runners-up visit Rome
In one of the sub levels (one featuring dancing hippos), the graphics don't appear good at all. It's as if they aren't finished and were just put in as a work-in-progress, something to come back to and polish up later. If Fantasia has one definite positive, it is how it looks, but this is one stage which appears quite out of place graphically.

One of the bigger annoyancies with this stage is the fact that the dancing hippos are huge, so are quite difficult to avoid, and also seem to take a lot of energy from you. Another annoyance is that one way of getting up the screen is through bubbles. However, to get out of the bubble, you have to unleash a big spell. I never found out, but I'm not sure what you would do if you had no spells left and were stuck in a bubble.

I don't really have an explanation for what's happening here.

Argh! Ghastly! Way too much make-up on the fire face!
So, level 3 wasn't too much of an issue, and I found myself completing it without needing to go into my first lot of continues. It was then onto level 4, a level based on the element of fire, and looking and sounding quite hellish. It's a complete contrast to the previous level. In fact, the atmosphere in this final level is actually quite dark and foreboding, and has been implemented in the game quite well. The game now feels as far removed from a typical cute Disney game as possible, with some quite fearsome enemies. As with previous levels, there are a lot of them, and it now becomes more important than ever to bounce over them. The level appears to be split into four stages, all of them quite short, but packing a challenge. By now, I'd forgotten that the game had a terrible control system, but found myself dying far too many times unfairly. Throughout the game, enemies, platforms, bonuses, etc. seem to appear when you complete an action somewhere else on the screen, such as killing a particular enemy, or collecting a certain item, or jumping in a certain spot. As with most things in this game, there isn't any logic to this happening - it just happens. On this final level, there are so many places where random things happen on the screen due you doing something completely different, that it all gets quite bizarre. After replaying the same level over an over, due to dying over and over, I began to get used to what I needed to do to trigger the appearance of an item or a platform.

A sinister looking level, this is.


I got to the third stage of level four, or third level of stage four (not sure which way round I'm calling things now, so I'll go for both), but found myself unable to get past a certain bit, a part where a witch showing way too much leg appears. Eventually, all my lives and all my continues were taken, and it was game over. Oh well, will try again tomorrow.

Wooooo!!! Mickey!!! I am the ghost of Walt Disney! I forbid you to ever grow a beard!!!

Mickey is about to find himself involved in a weird witchy orgy.


Put your hands up for Detroit!
DAY 4: Wednesday 4th April 2012
I did it! I finally completed Fantasia. 21 years after first playing it, I've finally done it. And, I was now able to claim my reward - my first viewing of the game's ending. And what an ending it was. Even though I traded the game in about a year or two after having it, I've always intended to return to the game to attempt to crack it, believing that it wasn't impossible. Because of this, I've always deliberately avoided any opportunity to see its ending, e.g. if it was published in magazines, on the internet. I wanted to savour the moment for myself. And savour it I did. I'm not going to reveal the ending with a screenshot here - I'm hoping to put together a gameplay video to demonstrate the game's gameplay, including its ending - but let's just say that it brought closure to the situation for me, if nothing more. Up until today, Fantasia was my unfinished symphony.

I've done this screenshot already, haven't I? Oh well,
here it is again.
Getting to the end of the game wasn't easy. Of course, the game itself wasn't easy, due to the several reasons above. However, the final level was quite an interesting challenge. I still believe that this level does a great job of capturing the feel of A Night on Bald Mountain, on which it is based, despite the rendition of its music still not being fantastic. As already explained, once you're used to the controls, you tend to forget that they're broken, and I can now understand why I kept coming back to this game all of those years ago.

Part of the final battle. It's tense, n'est pas?
Despite quite a good build up, the final battle isn't that amazing. Basically, just before you can exit the level, you have to destroy a few more of the level's enemies that get thrown at you. It's not the toughest of battles, but the final level is the only level in the game that presents an end-of-level battle, despite the fact it doesn't really feature a boss as such.

Tomorrow, I will give my final opinion of the game, and hopefully get a video recorded of me playing through it. Should be fun!

Let me out of here! Cried Mickey, and everybody else....
DAY 5: Thursday 5th April 2012
After completing Fantasia yesterday, I returned to play the game through again today, the main purpose to be to turn my gameplay into a video. And, as the video below shows, I completed the game again. Okay, I may have had to use one or two save states, but this was more to split the recording of the video into sections, rather than to cheat. There's nothing worse than recording video of a game, only to find the recording screwed up about a quarter of the way in. However, I did use save states to return to certain points and replay them, but this was also so that the video wasn't full of Mickey losing lives over and over again, although fortunately I didn't have to do this too often. This is because of one thing I will say in my final opinion of the game as my week week Fantasia draws to its end.

Just to summarise my choice of game and overall opinion of it, I decided to plump for Fantasia on the Mega Drive as it was a game that I owned back in the early 1990s. Despite feeling let down by the game at first back then, it was something I struggled and stuck with, and grew to sort of enjoy, although I ended up trading it in about a year or so after first having it. It was a game I never completed, although I knew that I came fairly close to doing so, and it's one that I've always told myself that I will one day return to and finish off. Not too sure why, as I usually don't have any desire to finish off games that remain uncompleted from my youth. I think it was something to do with the fact that, as I had managed to overcome its dodgy controls, I would one day go all the way and complete it.

This is what librarians do to you when you don't return
their books.
My return to Fantasia was just as I remembered it. The graphics are still quite good, the music is annoying, and the controls are still horrific. But, the game still managed to draw me in. What I do like is that the game does actually capture quite well the feel of the movie on which it is based. Fantasia the movie is very different to any other animated feature, being more of a demonstration of visual and audio techniques than an actual film with a plot. It is much more of a serious, surreal, darker animation than other Disney films, and the video game captures this idea quite well. As explained, the graphics do a really good job, and the choice of music, although poorly renditioned, suit the concept of the game. The game takes you through the four themes of the film: water, earth, air and fire, and actually implements most of the major scenes from it. However, the game's major downfall, and the reason it goes down in history as being something of a disaster, is its controls. Mickey is sluggish, the attack mechanism isn't very good (a lot of people playing the game don't even know that you can bounce on enemies to defeat them, such is its poor implementation). Added to the poor control is the over-abundance of enemies, coupled with erratic movements of them and platforms and bad collision detection. Plus, there is the illogical way items and enemies suddenly appear when doing something completely unrelated. A lack of consistency with how items behave. Some magic books increase your magic points by one, others by three. The stars do this too. And the fairies usually take you into sub levels, but there's at least one that does nothing, other than allows you to collect it. And how are the notes counted? Watch the video below, and there's no way at all I collected the number of notes that the game seems to think that I have at the end of the levels. There wasn't any technical save stating jiggery-pokery to achieve this. I'm not sure if the pearls (marbles, blue balls, whatever they are) also count as notes, but it's quite confusing.

Eye-eye!
Another thing, and perhaps the reason why I managed to get through the game quite easily on my attempt today, is that it is pretty much a memory test. Although enemies move erratically and appear to have random patterns, what they do and what platforms do what, can and has to be memorised. It's the only way of making progress. Unlike other games, where enemies and platforms also appear in the same places and are technically also memory tests, you find that you play the game by reacting to the situations, rather than planning your strategy by remembering what you have done before. Again, watching the video will demonstrate that I know when to duck, dodge, dive and dodge, purely because I've experienced the game already. There appears no logic to why I'm jumping into certain areas, or suddenly ducking, as it's certainly not reactionary to an event on screen. It's just because I remember that doing it another way is likely to end in losing energy or a life.

So, now I've returned to the game, and given it a thorough play-through and completed it, I can't say that it frustrated me as much as I thought it would. It wasn't even that unpleasant. I think what disappoints me is that, behind the poor controls, poor music, unfair and illogical situations, there is a good game there. It does look like a lot of work and effort was put into the game, and I'm sure Sega had a lot riding on it after the success of Castle of Illusion. What it feels like though is that the game was released incomplete. Most of the graphics are great, but there are a couple of levels where they seem quite rushed, or even just temporary. Presentation on the whole is okay, but the game is missing a good introduction, title screen - and the ending is something else completely. I just think that the game may have needed another few weeks or months to be polished, and could have been another Mega Drive classic. Instead, we're left with a frustrating platformer with some good ideas, and one which, in most cases, people would play for five minutes before switching it off and never returning to.

Here are some ratings:
Presentation: 67%
Only one introduction screen and an ugly title screen, although the level intermissions accurately portray the orchestra scenes from the film. Just needs a little more.

Graphics: 84%
On the most part, graphics are great, but seem a bit lacking in some levels. Kind of unfinished.

Sound: 71%
The choice of music is good, but the renditions are poor. Sound effects seem a bit irrelevant, and the noise you hear when losing energy is annoying.

Playability: 63%
Instantly off-putting due to poor controls. Mickey is too sluggish and it feels like a struggle to get him to do anything. Erratic enemy and platform movements and illogical in-game events make things worse.

Overall: 65%
I enjoyed playing the game through after getting used to the game's control system, but it's certainly not one I'll be returning to in a hurry. The game contains some good ideas, but needed more work before getting released.

And that's it. That's my week of Fantasia done. All that's left now is to watch my video, and like it on Youtube!!!

4 comments:

  1. Hello! Thank you for play this hard game to us! When I was a child, in 1998 I played that game and stayed so angry with the difficulty...
    Today I played in emulator and, for my surprise, the game still is hard, hahaha!

    I watched your video and I was surprised with a thing: the ending is so ridiculous! Boring, short, without credits! How can be this way? Hahaha, anyway, thanks one more time and have a nice new year! =)

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  2. I have no idea how i was able to beat this game as a kid. And that last level is terrifying! I still have nightmares about it. The eyes, the caged monsters, THE MUSIC. UGH, so many bad memories.

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  3. I'm currently challenging myself to go back and finish every game I've ever played on the hardest difficulty setting and I just finished Fantasia on hard and good god was it a painful experience. I'm not allowing myself to look for info beforehand but do a search when I finish a game to see what other people thought of the experience. I've got to say that you've pretty much nailed it with your post but it's certainly a lot more painful than you make it seem haha! The trick is to use the treasure chest on the second section of stage 1 to go back and collect the note until you have 9 lives and then find ways to work through the other levels while taking minimum damage. the only fairy I used was the cave level on stage 2 to pick up the notes there. You know a game is bad when the best way to complete it is just to avoid large sections of it.
    I struggled to work out how the notes were allocated at the end of stages but finally saw a pattern. You get a note for every 20k points you get and a note is worth 20k points but points from enemies and items count as well and if you die you keep your points from previous lives so while you may be collecting the same note your points are still increasing. I think 9 is the amount you need to progress to the next stage so 180k points.

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