To say the PlayStation 2’s launch line-up was patchy is an understatement. Not only were developers up against the clock to get games ready for launch, but they were also clearly struggling with the system’s complicated architecture.
Namco managed to deliver Ridge Racer V and Tekken Tag Tournament on time, a solid yet unspectacular duo, while some of the better offerings from western studios included TimeSplitters, Midnight Club, and SSX – three titles soon eclipsed by their sequels. The rest of the line-up mostly comprised of half-baked RPGs and lacklustre sports games. Not exactly system sellers.
However, long after beating Ridge Racer V’s best lap times and unlocking all of Tekken Tag’s endings, one game stood out from the rest – a timeless endeavour with more replay value than its peers, which eventually went on to form a cult following. That game was FantaVision.
A match-three puzzler arriving long before the idea was milked dry, FantaVision was based around matching three or more fireworks of the same colour, using a simple two-button control system to highlight and detonate. Multi-coloured fireworks allowed chains to be formed, all of which must be exploded before fizzling out.
The bigger the chain, the bigger the explosion. As puzzlers go, this was (and still is) one of the more eye-catching examples, with a fetching array of multi-coloured pyrotechnics and complex 3D backdrops which the camera slowly pans around.
The opening stages – set within a bustling city at night – were predictably easy, giving time to master the basics. The difficulty soon rose, however, with the moon base stages even requiring chains to be dropped so that straggling fireworks could be mopped up. The fact that just a few fireworks could escape your grasp made for a demanding experience, eventually calling for ahead planning by keeping an eye on what colours were next to appear.
Possibly to stop gamers from seeing the ending too soon, there was no continue screen either – one shot is all you had.
Collecting star power-ups eventually commenced a ‘Starmine’ bonus round in which fireworks – usually of just one or two colours – appeared in rapid succession, allowing 100-long chains to be potentially formed. The two-player mode (exclusive to the western releases) was another standout feature. The screen started evenly split, but as one player takes the lead it gradually grows in their favour, reducing the other player’s play area. Power-ups were more predominate here, with one able to swap play areas around, giving chance for the player falling behind to bounce back.
Considerable effort also went into FantaVision’s presentation, complete with menus featuring unique chunky fonts and abstract FMV sequences, mostly entailing children using vintage (‘70s) technology.
To tailor the experience to different audiences, perhaps fearing it lacked mass appeal, the in-game music varied between regions. The Japanese release favoured electro, while US gamers were treated to new age music and an intro featuring jazz. Over in Europe, meanwhile, quintessentially ‘90s trance music was the order of the day, along with a softer-spoken female narrator. Box art for the US release was also bolder and brasher, as was usually the case.
Japanese gamers were also treated to a semi-sequel in 2002 – two years after the original –featuring a remixed soundtrack and adding the previously missing two-player mode, hence the title Futari no Fantavision (FantaVision For You and Me). Sadly, and despite it being an ideal fit for the PS Vita, Sony has never revisited FantaVision since apart from a PS4 re-release of the PS2 original.
Play it today and you’ll discover a game that has aged gracefully, further proving the puzzle genre is generally able to withstand the test of time. By keeping things and simple and shying away from realism, in addition to featuring some impressive tech, Sony’s one and only PS2 launch title still shines bright.