Sunday, May 22, 2011

Third Rate Game Play: FantaVision

Game: FantaVision

System: Playstation 2

Developer: SCEI (Ape Escape)

Publisher: Sony

Player: Alex

Experience: Blind

The year was 1999. The first gaming generation of Sony was ebbing, and with the company being victorious in capturing the mindshare of consumers and developers alike, it looked like the second generation was going to be that much greater. Sega was releasing Dreamcast worldwide, but Sony would use that year’s Tokyo Game Show to let the world know who really dictated when the generation started. While no major game was truly demonstrated at the show, a myriad of Playstation 2 tech demos revealed the strength of the system and how it fared against the Dreamcast in graphics.

The tech demos ranged from water effects to animation prowess. To show off reflective surfaces and water effects, Sony showed off a demo involving a submarine, a rubber ducky, and a large sink. Meanwhile, third parties helped create their own tech demos, ranging from the dance scene in Final Fantasy VIII to the leading lady of Ridge Racer. However, the only demo which really emerged as a full game right at the Playstation 2's launch was a demo which featured explosions of color and fireworks to demonstrate the system’s particle effects to the TGS audience. That demo would become FantaVision.

Before FantaVision was created, its Designer Katsuyuki Kanetaka had worked on the Playstation adventure title Ape Escape, in which a young boy named Spike must catch monkeys who have spread havoc across time in an effort to rule the present and ruin humanity. The game’s biggest focus was demonstrating how to use the DualShock controller, which debuted late into the Playstation’s original lifecycle. FantaVision does not share much design-wise from Ape Escape, however. Whereas one is an adventure platformer, the other is an arcade puzzle game.

"Fireworks are launching across a city's skyline. In this puzzle game, you must connect them quickly to have them explode. Earn more points for detonating more fireworks at the same time. You can also work against another player to see who can gain the most points. Be careful, as control of the screen can shift and one player could be left with few fireworks to explode."

FantaVision is an arcade title in which players must trigger firework flares after they are launched into the air and before they fall away from the player’s view. The single player campaign features eight levels of increasing difficulty, each with their own unique song and pathway through a number of environments. The first few levels take place in a city, and as the game progresses, players will see fireworks on the Moon and into the farthest reaches of space. However, if the player fails once, the game has to be played from the beginning, leading to a very difficult experience for some.

As the screen moves along a fixed path, flares of different color are shot into the game screen. Players control a reticule which moves in the direction of the DualShock 2’s Left Stick once a button is pressed. Once locked onto three or more of the same color flare, the player can ignite the fireworks and create explosions of color in the sky. Some flares have different explosive properties, including ones which burst into many smaller explosions. If explosions and a flare of the same color collide, that flare will also ignite, giving potential for larger and longer combos. Once enough flares are lit right, players trigger Starmine, which gives them the ability to create massive combos for high scores. There are also power-ups which can greatly benefit players as more flares arrive than can be triggered at one time.

The North American and European versions of FantaVision both have a sufficient 2-player versus mode in which both players attempt to trigger a select number of flares first or get the most triggered in a specific time. Unique power-ups, including a screen flip mechanic, change the limits in which each player’s reticule can go, helping or hindering them in the process of creating explosive colors in the sky.

A unique aspect of the game is that the music differs from each region of its release. The North American, European, and Japanese versions of FantaVision all have their own soundtrack.

FantaVision was received modestly, with its minimal presentation and basic game design. It was Sony’s only launch title for the Playstation 2 in America, but other companies such as Agetec and Tecmo took the liberty of making its launch more than acceptable in consumers’ eyes. Of course, having DVD playback options helped, too, as DVD players were equally expensive compared to the PS2.

In Japan, FantaVision had a special rerelease called Futari no FantaVision, or FantaVision for You and Me in 2002. This version added the previously-excluded 2-player mode from the NA and EU versions of the game. The music was also remixed to provide a new experience for those who had played the first game. Some refer to this game as FantaVision Version 2, as it is a more complete and altogether better product than what was pushed out quickly at its March 2000 Japanese launch.

After developing FantaVision, the team went on to work on a similarly-designed title with less puzzle elements into the mix. This game, Flipnic: Ultimate Pinball, was released in Japan in 2003. The game would come out the following year in Europe through Ubisoft and 2004 through Capcom for the US. In Flipnic, players go through a number of uniquely-designed pinball tables with an “evolutionary” twist throughout the game. Designer Katsuyuki Kanetaka later acted as support for Ape Escape Academy and Ape Escape: On the Loose for the Playstation Portable, but since then he has been inactive in game development, based on MobyGames information.

Sony was wholly successful during the Playstation 2’s reign, outpacing Nintendo’s new console, effectively killing Sega’s last console, and moving forward against Microsoft’s first console venture. Having sold over 150 Million consoles, the Playstation 2 is seen as the highest-selling console of all time, let alone in the previous generation. With over two-thousand games over the past eleven years, the system is one of the most diverse and highly-competent video game consoles of all time. Since the Playstation 2, however, Sony has been met with some conflict. The PSP, Playstation Portable, was made to win the handheld space owned by Nintendo, and while it has gained a foothold in Japan, the device failed to make a mark against the Nintendo DS worldwide. The Playstation 3 launched with an infamous price of $599, ultimately yielding sales to the similarly-powered Xbox 360 and the much cheaper and unique Wii. Of course, with this generation still proceeding onward, it is unknown as to how the Playstation 3 will be remembered relative to the other two consoles. Currently, the NGP, or Next Generation Portable, is in production and will be releasing at the end of 2011 in America. Regardless of what is happening now and in the future, many can agree that the Playstation 2 will be a console with the perfect lineup and most likely will never be eclipsed unless the gaming industry continues to expand.

FantaVision was something we had not expected to reach us in time, but the game appeared to us just as we were ending our runs through the PS2 launch collection of videos. FantaVision, being a puzzle arcade game, did not have a lot to demonstrate, but we decide to run in blind, which turns out to be a bit stupid in hindsight.

We explore the main game twice, once after watching a tutorial video and the other after watching more tutorial videos. After getting Game Over screens both times, we take a look at the multiplayer element of the game, just to get a feel of what the game has to offer. There is not much else with the game, so we make do with the little game content we have.

FantaVision was not entirely the game I expected, while at the same time, it fit perfectly within my perception. Graphically, it must have been a nice game to watch back then, but a decade later, the age is definitely more apparent. The game design is very unique, asking players to aim at flares and detonate them as fireworks and, through that, create chains. It took a few notes from other arcade puzzle games, and that I must admit makes it a better fit into the genre.

However, the game does not offer much. Unless you perfect the combo or powerup systems, you are bound to fail early into the game. This is definitely the type of game you have to try out several times in a row to actually complete. Seeing as we did not want to bore anyone, we moved forward as quickly as we could. The multiplayer aspect of the game was interesting, but the overall experience was something I would see in the downloadable space nowadays. How different the industry gets after only a decade!

3RM Says: This game blows my mind. Into many colors! Ooooo.

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