|The most exciting title screen in the history of video games|
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 Rumour has it that it was actually withdrawn from sale a few months after its release, although, apart from reading this in an issue of Mean Machines once upon a time, I've never read anything else to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
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|
|Options! Options! Get yer options 'ere!!!|
|Mickey is pondering whether to walk slowly, turn slowly|
or jump slowly.
|Enemies! Enemies! Get yer enemies 'ere!|
|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!|
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!
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!|
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.
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.|
|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.|
|It's that dream again. Only this time with weird dancing beans and toadstools.|
|The Biggest Loser runners-up visit Rome|
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!|
|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!|
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.
|Part of the final battle. It's tense, n'est pas?|
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....|
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|
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:
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.
On the most part, graphics are great, but seem a bit lacking in some levels. Kind of unfinished.
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.
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.
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!!!