Space Harrier – Review

“Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. Get Ready!”

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Space Harrier is an arcade rail shooter. It was developed and published by Sega and released for the arcade in 1985. It was later ported to the Master System in 1986, the Game Gear in 1991, and the Mega Drive’s 32x in 1994. Non-Sega releases included the TurboGrafx-16, Famicom, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, Commodore 64, Nintendo 3DS, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009). It was the latter version that I chose to review.

Plot

The arcade version had no plot as such, but when it was released on the Master System in 1986, a back story was given. It explained that the once peaceful Land of Dragons was attacked by an army of monsters and robots. As Space Harrier, you are sent to defeat the invading army and return the Land of Dragons to its peaceful existence.

Gameplay

Played in third person, Space Harrier runs briefly before taking off. You then fly around the screen destroying or evading oncoming enemies. The enemies consist of an array of robots and monsters. One such monster is a mammoth with one eye…weird! You must also be aware of the many stationary pillars throughout the stages. One hit from your enemies or a collision with a pillar will result in death.

Space Harrier will always default to the centre of the screen, so if you let go of the controls, he will automatically move to the central position.

There are 18 Stages, with numbers 5 and 12 being Bonus Stages. The Bonus Stages sees you riding a Haku-esque (Studio Ghibli fans will know what I mean) dragon. The object of the Bonus Stage is to smash down trees or pillars to gain extra points.

Don’t forget to evade enemy fire and stationary objects (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The game is very fast and chaotic, and I think there is little finesse required. I often felt that I got through the stages on sheer luck and persistence. If it wasn’t for infinite continues, I would not have made it past the first few levels. However, the manoeuvring controls are tight, but you must remember to keep tapping the fire button. There are no automatic weapons to make the game easier for you.

Disappointingly, there is only one weapon for you to utilise. It would have been nice to be able to pick up a few power-ups along the way.

One of the issues with the third person view and the speed of the game is that it is difficult to judge the depth of the projectiles being hurled at you. When being peppered with fireballs, it is difficult to determine when they will hit you. So much is happening that you are simply trying to fly in random patterns before slamming into an enemy laser or fireball. Again, I think you just need luck more than skill.

According to a reviewer from Computer & Video Games magazine (see below), the game will adapt its difficulty based on how well you play it. I’m unsure if this feature was on my version, but I certainly noticed that some levels appeared to be faster than others.

In the Bonus Stages, although you can direct the dragon, you can’t really steer it.

Graphics

The sprites look great! Space Harrier is brightly coloured and nicely detailed. Sadly, you don’t have much time to admire the illustrations of the enemy sprites as they whizz by incredibly fast. Only when you die, and if an enemy is close to the foreground do you see how awesome the robots or dragon creatures look.

The level design is quite basic. The floors are coloured in bi- or tri-tonal chequered patterns and change colour with every stage. The skies tend to have multi-coloured horizontal stripes patterns. The backgrounds contain minimal detail, but you don’t really have time to admire them as your attention is on the incoming enemies and pillars.

Music & SFX

When I began writing this review, I had to go back and play a few levels just to listen to the music. The music is actually good and fits the game well but because of the on-screen action, my brain seemed to filter it out.

I loved the vocalised “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. Get Ready!” at the beginning of the game. Is it me, or does the sound Space Harrier makes when he does is very similar to Altered Beast (1988)?

I also like the fact that when you hit an enemy, there are two distinctive sounds to indicate whether the enemy has taken damage or not.

Replay Value

For me, there isn’t much replay value with this game unless you are a fan of rail shooters. I doubt I will return to this game again. There isn’t even a two-player mode to compete against a friend with.

I really like the enemy sprite designs (screenshot taken by the author)

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, although it took me around 16 continues. If we equate this to £1 per continue, it took me £16 to complete. That’s not too bad…or is it? I don’t know how to gauge these things. My final score was 29438560.

Spoiler Alert!

I felt cheated when I beat the game. A message appears simply stating “The End”, and that’s it!

What The Critics Said:

Computer and Video Games: “What makes it so interesting is, other than the fast and exciting game play and clear bright graphics, is that the machine will judge for itself how proficient you are, and change the level of difficulty accordingly, sometimes within the same screen.” No Rating.[1]

Sinclair User Magazine: “The fabulously colourful 3D graphics, the movement of the sit-in cabinet were, and still are, breathtaking. The first thing you’ll notice about Space Harrier as you climb into the pilot’s seat is the seatbelt. It makes you wonder what type of ride you’re in for. Take it from me – it’s turbulent. Still using the basic blast-everything -which-moves theme, Space Harrier hurls you up, down, left and right while managing to tilt the cabinet in a roll in whatever direction you push your joystick. It’s hair-raising and great fun.” No Rating.[2]

Computer Gamer: “The game is basically of the shoot anything that moves, and if it doesn’t explode get out of the way, type – but the graphics are extremely good, and the 3D effects are quite good.” No Rating.[3]

My Verdict

“This game is fast and furious, and the way the original cabinet would move you around as you played must have been revolutionary. Without the cabinet, the game is probably a lot of fun for rail shooter fans, but I came away from it feeling like I’d not actually done that much. The sprites look great, and the controls are tight, but I don’t think there is that much skill required for this game, and I don’t feel like playing it again.”

Rating

What are your memories of Space Harrier? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Edgeley, C., ‘Arcade Action – Space Harrier’. Computer and Video Games. (Feb 1986). :83.

[2]  ‘The Arcade Coin-Op Giants for 1987 – Space Harrier’. Sinclair User Magazine. (Feb 1987). Issue 59:92.

[3] ‘Coin-Op Connection – Space Harrier’. Computer Gamer. (March 1986). Number 12:26.

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