I’m tired of this dismal planet, this grubby orb of shame and regret. We need a better world, a brighter world - dare I say it, a fancy world. I’d love to tell you that Korean developer Unico can offer that world with their 1996 arcade game Fancy World: Earth of Crisis, but this is merely a sub-par arcade platformer and will do little to help forge the world we deserve.
If there’s one thing I associate with the word “fancy” it’s rainbow-coloured balloons spelling out words so please don’t ask me to plan you a fancy wedding, you’ll regret it. The fact that this is also an Earth of Crisis is rather underplayed by the title screen. Accentuate the positives, I get it, but it’s the crisis I’ll be battling against rather than the fanciness. So what is the crisis at hand?
Oh, you know, the usual. A mad scientist with a vaguely Colonel Sanders vibe appears with nefarious plans in mind and a Trebor Extra-Strong Mint glued over his eye. “You are my obey orders,” he says. Look, his doctorate is in Mad Science, not English, okay? The villain never actually explains what these orders are, but until we obey them he’s going to hold the Earth hostage.
I mean that literally. He’s holding a gun to the Earth’s head, having presumably created an unfathomably huge space cannon that he built in the shape of a revolver because what’s the point of being a global tyrant if you don’t have panache? The world looks understandably worried, so it’s up to our plucky heroes to saves the day by doing… something? I’ll be honest, I never really figured out what’s going on in this one, folks.
To save the Earth one must travel the Earth, visiting each of these world in the hopes that somehow this will make the bad guy halt his evil plan. Each flag is a world consisting of five stages and sometimes a boss battle. Do you think each world will feature a stereotypical version of whatever country they take place in?
Well, the first country is “England” and the background is a big picture of Tower Bridge so yes, that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s always Tower Bridge or Parliament, isn’t it? C’mon, devs, give us a game set outside a Lidl in Hull or something.
Oh, right, the gameplay. You’re in control of the blue-haired, cat-eared Amazon princess type at the top-left of the screenshot above, and it’s her job to clear each stage of monsters. I say monsters, this stage is filled with chickens. Large chickens, I grant you, chickens wearing shoes, but hardly monstrous chickens. They still need dealing with, though, and Fancy World fits neatly into that genre of single-screen arcade action games that I think of as “Bubble Bobble Games.” There are dozens of the things, from the aforementioned Bubble Bobble to Snow Bros. and lesser known examples like Funky Jet or Diet Go Go. They’ve all got their own unique quirks, most often relating to how you defeat the monsters, so what’s Fancy World’s gimmick?
It, erm, doesn’t have one. No climbing on bubbles, no rolling the enemies up in snowballs, no nothing. You attack by throwing energy balls horizontally at the enemies; hit them three times and they’re defeated. That’s it. Fancy World is about as basic as this type of game gets, and as I jump between the platforms and tap the fire button to throw my projectiles I’m already starting to regret covering this game.
We must hope that the enemy designs will keep us entertained until the gameplay sparks into life and hey, these dogs are pretty neat. They’ve got a projectile attack where they dig up bones and flick them towards you, that’s fun. Not sure why they’re wearing dungarees, but I suppose a fancy world deserves fancy dogs.
After clearing five stages of very straightforward dog-and-chicken-bothering action, the first world is complete. Your reward is a picture of a woman in a vinyl suit who gives off a “circus ringmaster” aura, surrounded by floating bubbles filled with a bloke in a headband poking himself in the eye. Th-thanks? I guess?
World two has windmills, so it must be The Netherlands, famed as the home of superhero mice and blue hedgehogs, a character design that’ll never catch on. Speaking of character designs, I’m not sure why the developers decided to have the main character’s default expression be one of open-mouthed petulance, but I think it works quite well. She's as fed up of this bullshit as I am. The gameplay remains the same, but you probably guessed that already.
I did manage to grab a couple of power-ups along the way. Fancy World gives you lots of items to collect, most of them being points-scoring items ranging from small coins to, erm, big coins. There are some food items to gather up too, and even some negative items like the bottle of whiskey that reverses your controls. I’ve never understood games that equating being drunk with reversed controls – if anything, being drunk in a videogame should just add a bunch of input delay to your actions, or possibly take control away from the player entirely and force their character to visit a kebab shop.
One of the power-ups I found was a special item that, when used, freezes all enemies on-screen, which is helpful but not as good as the power-up that changes your orb projectiles into a massive laser beam that defeats all monsters in a single hit.
At the end of every second world waits a boss, beginning with the best boss of them all: a flying jack o’lantern! I didn’t know Holland was renowned for its pumpkins, and this isn’t the most interesting pumpkin design I’ve ever seen, sure, but I’ll take what I can get.
Unfortunately the boss fight is crap. Up until this point Fancy World has been a real breeze of a game, with your bulky, fast-firing projectiles easily clearing out the monsters as long as you manage to reach the low levels of concentration required to not jump directly into an enemy projectile. Then the boss shows up and fills the entire screen with exploding orbs that are difficult to avoid and protect the boss from your orbs. It all feels like a bit of a random mess, frankly.
Oh, so you get a picture of an anime girl after every stage, huh? Seems to be a bit of a theme with the Korean arcade games I’ve played recently. This one looks as though she’s real sad about the kung-fu ass-kicking she’s about to deliver. Perhaps she’s being forced to beat up a kitten against her will.
Things pick up a bit in Australia, with a batch of new creatures that move a little faster and have more readily available projectile attacks. They’re an eclectic bunch. You’ve got deadly snakes, because of course you have, it’s Australia. Actually, I’m surprised that the enemies aren’t more heavily inspired by the stages that they inhabit. You get the odd one or two that fit the geography but it could have been laid on much more thickly – imagine being chased around the Netherlands stage by a possessed clog, or facing off against a kangaroo with an improvised explosive device stuffed down its pouch. Instead we get green spear-wielding creatures that my brain keeps telling me are rabbits even though they clearly are not, and fly-winged ladies with sprites copied from the main character who sometimes stop and bend over, flashing their arse at the player. It’s not an attack or anything, they’re just rude. Oh, and some unfortunate “bone-through-the-nose aboriginal savage” enemies that aren’t pictured here, blergh.
After Australia is Greece, and the same enemy types are repeating now, which is very disappointing. The stages themselves are getting a bit more complicated, mostly through the addition of double-thickness platforms. You can drop down “through” the single-thickness platforms but not the double-thickness ones, meaning you have to pay a bit more attention to where you’re going.
No idea what the bells are all about, though. Perhaps the villain's grand plan is to turn the Earth into the universe’s biggest fruit machine.
This world’s boss is a pound-shop version of Air Man from Mega Man 2, an ambulatory fan that has two moves: slide from left to right, and slide from right to left. This is dangerous, because your character dies in one hit and takes a surprisingly long time to jump between the levels of the stage, so you’d get crushed a lot even if the stage wasn’t stuffed with murderous chickens. Hey, maybe the villain is Colonel Sanders. It’d explain all the chickens.
All of Fancy World’s boss battle suffer from the same problem, in that the developers clearly couldn’t come up with any interesting mechanics for the boss fights so they overcompensated by filling the arena with hordes of annoying enemies. The chickens add nothing beyond nuisance value, but fortunately about half-way through the fight the boss suddenly stopped being able to hit me if I was standing on the bottom-most floor. A glitch? Probably, but I’ll take it.
Onward to Brazil, where the chicken quotient is further increased with the addition of fire-breathing chickens. Or maybe the developers had just read that dinosaurs had feathers and so it stands to reason that dragons would also have feathers. Just ask the Aztecs, they know all about feathered serpents. Also, Christ the Redeemer looks on with disappointment but also, you would assume, with the compassion needed to forgive Fancy World for being so uninteresting.
Next up is the USA. The USA’s most famous landmark is “dirt” and the most dangerous enemies here are blokes with guns. Cruel burn on the USA from Unico, there. There are also invisible children, or possibly invisible dogs. This is a world where either species is free to wear dungarees, after all.
There are lots of enemies about and the platforms are small and fiddly to negotiate, so it seems like a good time to mention that not only is Fancy World boring on a core level, it doesn’t play very well. You’re in control of a real lummox of character, with movements that feel just heavy enough to make getting around a chore, especially the delay between pressing jump and actually jumping. I also struggled with getting off platforms, because you have no momentum when you walk off a platform and fall down. Rather than continuing to move forward slightly as you fall, you drop vertically downwards like someone filled your shoes with bricks, further increasing the leaden sensation of your character’s movements.
Moving upwards is equally annoying thanks to the often vague platform boundaries. See the screenshot above for an example – I’m sure it’s not just me that thinks our heroine should land on the platform below her but no, she’s not far enough to the left and she’ll fall straight back through. This happens a lot in Fancy World, and it’s bad enough when you’re moving around a fairly empty stage – as soon as there are a few enemies and projectiles around, simply getting from one platform to the next becomes far more of a chore than it should be.
The boss is a big pair of legs with a powerful cannon dangling below. Small wonder it has such a mischievous grin. It also has the ability to, you guessed it, spawn dozens of enemies. Just landing a hit on this bloody thing is a real accomplishment, because those enemies are more than willing to lay their life on the line for their leader and keep diving in front of your attacks.
As we reach Easter Island, the small amount of steam that Fancy World had generated has well and truly run out, along with my patience and the oversized mug of coffee I was using to keep myself awake while wading through the swarms of recoloured enemies. It’s all just so charmless, without the precise controls and more in-depth gameplay mechanics of similar games to keep it interesting.
Even the between-world anime girls have reached a nadir, with this one having a spinal configuration that I can’t explain but which has left me feeling rather uncomfortable. Seeing her did encourage me to stand up and stretch before getting back to my regular “hunching over my computer” activities, so that’s good, I suppose?
I’m skipping the completely uninteresting preceding stage to get straight to this world’s boss, a double-headed dragon that offers a tiny oasis of fun in an otherwise barren desert of killer chickens. It’s actually cute, can you believe, wobbling its twin heads around and breathing fireballs in a manner that feels like a sensible, decent, god-fearing videogame boss battle… but then loads of enemies spawn in and ruin the whole thing. You were so close, Fancy World, so close.
Here’s Canada. It’s cold, boring and empty, and this stage isn’t much fun either. I’m kidding, Canadian readers, you’re all right by me.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would have liked the ice platforms in this world to be slippery. Your character controls like crap anyway, but if they controlled like a different kind of crap for a while, that’d be something at least.
The final world takes place in the clouds. There are red lines on the clouds so you can see where the platforms actually begin and end, a feature that is welcome but which should have probably tipped the developers off that their platform-creating system needed a complete overhaul. All the different kinds of enemies are here. This is heaven, and I have chased them up to the celestial cloudscape so I can kill them all over again. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it, because if I don’t some up with something the crushing tedium will send me to sleep. I’m sorry for covering this one, folks – it’s easily the most boring game I’ve played in a long time. What the hell was I thinking? “Oh well, I’ve played most of it now, I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with something to say about Fancy World?” Pure hubris. I deserve everything I get.
If you were looking forward to seeing the final boss of Fancy World, perhaps in the vain hope that it might be interesting enough to redeem the rest of the game – tough shit. There is no final boss. You just fight all the previous bosses a second time. They are not any more enjoyable this time around. I’m very tired now. So tired.
Hang on, so that wasn’t a metaphor for the Earth being held hostage that we saw in the intro? It was actually a small creature shaped like the Earth? And I saved it? Is this thing the Fancy World of the title, a special little fancy boy? I don’t have the energy to crack this code, I’m afraid. As our heroine relaxes on the beach, I reckon I need a similar recuperative experience – although I don’t like the beach, so I’ll probably just go to bed with the Nightmare on Elm Street DVD box set. It’s getting to that time of year…
Fancy World: Earth of Crisis is a videogame. That much is clear. However, it’s a generic videogame, a Tesco Value videogame, the supermarket own-brand equivalent of Bubble Bobble or similar and as such it has washed over me in a grey wave of mediocrity. It’s nowhere near bad enough to get worked up about, although it isn’t great either: the poor controls and repetitive gameplay see to that. It’s just really boring. It was nice to see a pumpkin as a boss, but as mental nourishment goes that was less a three-course-meal and more chewed gum from under a bus seat. Next time I will try to pick a more interesting game to cover. On of those ZX Spectrum railway management games, possibly.
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