There’s something oddly gratifying about experiencing yesteryear’s arcade games on the go. It’s a testament to technological progress that we’re now able to mimic the games once found in massive arcade cabinets with affordable consoles that can fit in a backpack. What’s especially satisfying is when the porting of those old coin-ops demonstrates pedantic accuracy, faultlessly simulating the sight and sounds of machines that are gradually becoming extinct.
And that’s precisely the method adopted by Abiko-based M2 Co., Ltd. Whereas many developers might take a slightly laxer approach to emulation, M2 seems committed by historical preservation. This attitude is evident when examining the developers’ latest additions to the Switch eShop, SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone and SEGA AGES Shinobi, two of the company’s lapsed, but beloved series. Pleasingly, the studio even adds a few shrewd elements to each title, providing variation for long-time fans.
SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone
Sure, Opa-Opa, the capsule-shaped star of Fantasy Zone might not seem as charismatic as mascots like Sonic the Hedgehog, Segata Sanshiro or even Alex Kidd. But the character embodied the qualities that define the cute ‘em genre. A loveable little winged space craft, it also possesses an immense array of firepower, blending allure and lethality.
Opa’s initial outing was 1985’s Fantasy Zone, an arcade game that added an economic model to the freely scrolling action of Defender. Here, players zipped across an elongated playfield, attempting to destroy a multitude of bases, before battling a stage boss. But what set it apart from other games was the absence of power-ups. In its place, defeated foes dropped coins, which when collected could be spent to purchase more powerful weapons by flying into the free-floating shop.
Delve into the M2’s 81 megabyte download and you’re able to play a faithful recreation of the original game. Optionally, you can bankroll any collected currency, squirreling away resources for the next time you tackle the campaign. Those with more malleable gaming principals can opt to start on any level that you’ve progressed toward. Perhaps it’s pardonable, as Fantasy Zone’s challenge increases rapidly, with formations of snaking foes and playfields filled with deadly projectiles. Powering up your engines and offensive devices becomes necessary in this vibrantly colored world.
Sure, there are a few diminutive changes. Fantasy Zone’s map on the bottom on the screen was more ambiguous than Defender’s trusty radar. Now, hand icons appear on the borders, pointing players to the location of the airborne bases. Optionally, you can play Upa-Upa Mode, which cleverly changes ownership to a rental agreement. The deal is you can switch between any weapons with the triggers, but they cost coins to use. Elegantly, the balance is spot-on, with a persistent tension between saving your funds or blowing your bankroll on annihilation. There’s also a time attack, where there’s scorekeeping, and the only reason is blast subordinates is to save for an upgrade. It’s fun, but not as compelling as Upa-Upa mode.
Recommended for: Shmup junkies who want to see one of the cute ‘em up’s foundational entries.
SEGA AGES Shinobi
From Sonic the Hedgehog to Shenmue, Virtua Fighter to Valkyria Chronicles, Sega has a notable number of beloved franchises. But one of my favorites was a series that the developer seems to struggle with sustaining. The last three franchise entries, 2002’s Shinobi, 2003’s Nightshade and 2011’s Shinobi (for the 3DS), were all met with contention. The former two valiantly attempted to move their nimble protagonists into the third dimension, while the latter is often criticized for its uncompromising difficulty. Clearly, Shinobi’s most contenting outings arrived during the eighties and nineties.
With the release of SEGA AGES Shinobi, developer M2 demonstrates what made the inaugural entry riveting enough to spawn eleven follow-ups. A spot-on recreation of the 1987 System 16 coin-op classic, Shinobi puts players in the tabi boots of Joe Musashi, a modern-day ninja tasked with rescuing his kidnapped clan members across five multi-stage missions. While it was only three years removed from the similarly themed side-scroller, Kung-Fu Master, Shinobi added a of nuance to the action.
Gone were the unrealistic deaths caused by merely touching an enemy sprite. Musashi was no pushover, and mere physical contact would often bump you backwards. Like any respectable ninja, only kicks, bullets, knives, swords, and deep falls would take one of your lives. The protagonist moved like a ninja too. He was faster than many opponents and could leap to higher or lower floors. Ducking under the obstructions that littered each level demonstrated a defensive ability, while his ninjutsu techniques could clear the entire screen of enemies. In between stages, the game offered a three-dimensional challenge where you threw shuriken at advancing assassins. Here, a single mistake forced you to forfeit any kind of bonus.
SEGA AGES Shinobi’s Arcade Mode lets you take the original version with the option to rewind up to ten second of time. For some, this will be a welcome addition, since Musashi is tough, but can still succumb to a single hit. Alternatively, you can opt for the game’s Ages Mode. Here, the protagonist dons the light colored shozoku from 1989’s The Revenge of Shinobi, allowing for three hits before death occurs and powerup his arsenal. Across both modes, you can select your starting stage- as long as you’ve successfully strode and shurikened your way to that point already. As with M2’s previous efforts, expect a replay viewer as well as the ability to play in the original 4:3 mode or a display-filling 16:9 output, as well as apply scanlines or smoothing.
Recommended for: Anyone who want to see the roots for the run-and-gun game.