Have you ever seen a game on a shelf that you looked at over and over without ever buying? Have you ever left the store and then picked the game right back up on your next visit? You may feel drawn to repeatedly scrutinize the same package, but its hard to tell the difference between a sleeper hit and a piece of garbage from a box cover. Fantavision was one of those games for me. Ive been looking at it off and on since the PlayStation 2s launch, but the feedback was mixed and I wasnt convinced that a quasi-puzzle game like this would be worth $50. When you get into this type of situation, I think its best to just take note of the game and wait for a used copy or a sale before committing all that money on something that could potentially be a dud. In Fantavisions case, Im extremely glad I waited.
The game is hard to describe, but its basically the bastard child of Missile Command and Connect-The Dots, only not as fun as either one. You start with a cursor in the middle of the screen, and unexploded fireworks (called shells) are launched from the bottom. The point is to detonate as many fireworks as possible, making combos along the way. Moving the cursor from shell to shell, you need to touch at least three shells of the same color before you can ignite them. To make longer chains of shells, you can touch special multicolored fireworks that act as links between colors. There are also several other rules of play that govern point multipliers, different methods of linking shells, other ways to detonate, and a special bonus round. In addition, you have a lifebar that dwindles every time you fail to ignite a shell, a timer that tells you how much time is left before you finish the stage, and different items with various effects. All of this takes place over non-interactive backgrounds that feature nighttime skies, cityscapes and outer space. Although fully rendered, they resemble nothing so much as the old-style FMV backgrounds that were popular in some early 32-bit games.
While all of this may sound fairly unique or at least interesting, its not. In my opinion, the best puzzle games are easy to learn, but hard to master. Any time a puzzle game tries to add too many rules or get too complicated, the ease of play and purity of the experience are compromised. Look at the best puzzle game of all time, Tetris. Blocks fall, the player makes lines, and thats it. Its simple. With this philosophy in mind, its easy to see that Fantavision got off on the wrong foot from the very start with its overkill approach to the rules. Going through the incredibly slow four-part tutorial before I played the game, I forgot the rules from part two before I got to part three. If you cant explain a puzzle game in five sentences or less, you had better go back to the drawing board, I think.
However, despite the ridiculous amount of rules and strategies that are covered in the games tutorial, none of it really matters since the play basically boils down to moving your cursor around as quickly as possible and trying to haphazardly make links. I was able to pass the first three stages of the game by randomly twirling the cursor around the visual chaos and pressing the button when directed. Since the computer will automatically show you which shells you can link to, theres not a lot of thought or strategy necessary until the later stages, by which time youll be too bored to care.
The fireworks look pretty enough, but its only impressive for about fourteen seconds, and thats the heart of the problem right there. Watching pyrotechnics is great on New Years Eve or the Fourth of July, but its not something thats intrinsically very entertaining for sustained periods. Consequently, theres no meat to this puzzler since neither the gimmick of blitzing your optical nerve nor the task of linking shells are especially fun or addicting. As I was playing it, I sat there wondering WHY I was playing it. I mean, I know it was necessary to do so for this review, but there was no desire or interest in spending time with it beyond the aspect of work. Fantavision is the ultimate example of non-engaging gameplay, and I could feel myself spiraling further and further into the darkest levels of game apathy with every firework going off.
If you have a fireworks fetish, or you absolutely must own every single game ever released for the PlayStation 2, Fantavision might be the thing for you. For anybody else, dont bother. The gameplay never, ever manages to come together, and only succeeds in delivering cheap eye candy and large doses of boredom. Even at its current heavily discounted price its simply not worth money. As a matter of fact, I got my copy for free and I still feel ripped off.