Before Sonic came along in 1991, SEGA had its fair share of mascots. Ask a SEGA fan in the 1980’s who SEGA’s current mascot was, and you’d likely receive a variety of answers. Some may point to the Shinobi arcade game star Joe Musashi, while others may point to the Mario-like Master System star Alex Kidd. Opa-Opa of Fantasy Zone was another of these mascots vying for the SEGA throne, and if you ask me he was the most worthy of the crown. While Opa-Opa lacked an expressive face, a drawback that some say was the reason Alex Kidd came out ahead of the sentient spaceship, I say he made up for it with a simple yet memorable design that evoked SEGA’s quirky nature at the time. Opa-Opa is both cute with his bright colors and white wings, and hardcore with his jet propulsion and firepower. He also fits in perfectly with the “blue skies” aesthetic SEGA is well known for thanks to the fact that the skies are where Opa-Opa spends a majority of his time.
Since his debut in 1986, Opa-Opa has made cameo appearances in several SEGA games, a testament to Opa-Opa’s original design. In fact, Opa-Opa’s cameo career began the very year he debuted and his cameo appearances continue through to today. In this week’s Weekly Five we’ll be highlighting some of Opa-Opa’s greatest appearances, from playable to non-playable and from obscure to blatantly obvious. Yes, Shenmue made the list, you can stop holding your breath Ryo Hazuki fans.
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (1986)
Released to arcades in 1986, the same year as Fantasy Zone, Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars was a side-scrolling platformer starring the titular hero Alex Kidd and his Luigi-like second player companion Stella as they traversed Miracle World in search of “miracle balls”. The game consists of six stages, which are repeated once, and the end of each stage features a miracle ball for Alex Kidd to collect. What connection do miracle balls have with The Lost Stars of the title? Each ball is represented by a zodiac sign, and the first of these signs is Aries. Upon completion of the first stage and collecting the Aries miracle ball, the player is treated to a graphic of the collected zodiac sign and Opa-Opa in the center of the map. I guess Opa-Opa is an Aries?
Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf (1989)
Without prior knowledge that Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf was originally Ozaki Naomichi no Super Masters in Japan, this Opa-Opa cameo would be truly bizarre. In both the original and Western versions of the game, Opa-Opa appears in the game’s options menu as the selection icon for the sound settings. Also, in the Western version only, after hitting the ball 100 times on the first stage without getting to the green, players are taken to a “GAME OVER” screen. However, inputting the the Konami Code takes players to a simplified version of the first stage from Fantasy Zone. It’s an odd addition, if only because the Japanese version does not have this mini-game. Also, why in the world is SEGA using the Konami code?
It’s fun to imagine a scenario in which Arnold Palmer demanded a meeting with SEGA, wishing to have his own game after the success of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. SEGA offered up Ozaki Naomichi no Super Masters, which they said could be retitled to include Arnold Palmer’s name, and let Arnold Palmer play a few holes. After playing the game, Arnold Palmer leaned back, took a sip of iced tea and lemonade, and said “Not good enough”. Frantically, SEGA’s representative asked what else Mr. Palmer would want, to which Arnold Palmer replied “That little winged guy from the sound screen? I want more of him.” It’s more likely that the developers of the Western release slipped the Fantasy Zone mini-game in as an easter egg that didn’t make the cut on the Japanese version, but I prefer to believe that Arnold Palmer had a hand in getting Opa-Opa an expanded role.
I told you Shenmue made the list! For many SEGA fans who missed out on the Master System era, Shenmue was the first time players laid eyes on Opa-Opa. I’ll admit, I knew very little of the Fantasy Zone franchise in 2000. That changed when I developed an addiction to collecting capsule toys in the game, and soon Ryo’s pockets were filled with SEGA stars. Some characters I recognized and some, like Opa-Opa, were entirely new to me. After a bit of research, which was tricky in 2000 given the state of the internet at the time, I discovered the Fantasy Zone franchise. It just goes to show you how important small cameos can be in turning SEGA fans on to franchises they would have never sought out otherwise.
Planet Harriers (2001)
It has always fascinated me that the Space Harrier and Fantasy Zone franchises exist in the same universe. As soon as players hit start on Space Harrier, they are greeted with “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone”. Seeing as Space Harrier pre-dates Fantasy Zone by a year, there is that “chicken and the egg” conundrum of “which came first, Space Harrier‘s mention of ‘the Fantasy Zone’ or the development of Fantasy Zone?”. Were SEGA developers inspired by a whimsical bit of in-game dialogue and created Fantasy Zone or was it an early sign of universe building and a tease of their upcoming arcade title?
Whatever the answer, SEGA made sure to tie the two franchises together numerous times. Exclusive to the Sharp X68000 version of Fantasy Zone was the secret stage “Dragon Land” which featured Space Harrier enemies, music and a boss reworked to fit with Opa-Opa’s sidescrolling shooting. In 1991 SEGA planned to release Space Fantasy Zone to PC Engine CD-ROM² (aka TurboGrafx-CD in the West), which would bridge the two franchises and feature Space Harrier gameplay with Opa-Opa as the protagonist. The game was to also mix enemies, settings, and music from both franchises and the SHOP from Fantasy Zone was to appear. Unfortunately, the game was cancelled for unknown reasons. Some cite SEGA shifting focus away from the PC Engine CD-ROM² and to the MEGA CD and others cite the fact that the PC Engine CD-ROM² was unable to properly scale the graphics which lead to “choppy” scaling and graphics that may not have met SEGA’s standards.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that the Space Harrier franchise finally brought Opa-Opa into the fold thanks to a special playable appearance in 2001’s Planet Harriers. While initially Opa-Opa acts as the shopkeeper of the game’s item store, inputting right, down, left, up, left, down, left, up, right, left, up and pressing the vulcan button to select the character Glenn unlocks a fully playable 3D Opa-Opa. While Planet Harriers itself is an incredibly fun game, playing as Opa-Opa in a 3D Space Harrier world is a SEGA fan’s dream come true. It’s only a shame that the game has never seen release outside of arcades, and to this day it is one of the most requested SEGA arcade titles of that era to receive a console release.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (2010)
Opa-Opa’s latest playable appearance was in 2010’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing as the well deserved, and well earned, final unlock. Unlike all the other racers, Opa-Opa acted as both the character and vehicle. He excelled in acceleration and handling, however Opa-Opa’s weak areas were boosting and high speeds. Thankfully, his All-Star Move made up for these downfalls by allowing Opa-Opa to select from three different weapons in an item shop lifted from the original Fantasy Zone. Interesting to note, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is the first SEGA game in which you can pit three of SEGA’s mascots against each other. Finally players can find out who would win in a race: Sonic, Alex Kidd, or Opa-Opa.
Opa-Opa did not return for the game’s 2012 sequel, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, however he does appear as a giant holographic statue in the game’s final track “Race of Ages” which also features a dragon from Space Harrier and a remix of the Space Harrier theme.
Wow! Sure this was a Weekly Five, but we covered far more than five cameos. Clearly SEGA loves Opa-Opa just as much as we do. What does the future hold for the Fantasy Zone franchise? Join us Sunday for a special round table in which we try and answer that question ourselves.Ad: