Released in 1985 the original arcade release of Space Harrier was one of the first arcade cabs where you sit to play. This was long before the release of the racing and shooting cabs that now dominate the arcade scene.
My First Time Playing Space Harrier
The first time I played this was in an arcade on a motorway service. I was very young at the time and this was the first time I had played a game that broke the mould of the standard upright arcade cabinets. Like the children of today sitting in the driver’s seat of the Sega Rally cab until their parents put some money in to shut them up, I annoyed the hell out of my dad to play it until he eventually caved.
About 5 years later I had completely forgotten about this game; as I said I was very young. It was the Christmas of 94 and my parents had bought me a 32X. Among the games were Knuckles Chaotix and Virtua Fighter. Hidden behind these games was a copy of Space Harrier. I had no recollection of the arcade game until I heard the music. Like a scene from Total Recall, all of these memories flooded back. It’s strange how one catchy tune can remind you of so many things from your past.
Which Version to Choose?
Today I am torn for which version to review but I think the 32X is so close to the arcade version its hard to tell them apart. The only major difference is the lack of seat and flight stick to the home port. Like many home ports back then they didn’t really see the need to bring out useless peripherals like they do now.
Trust me if MadCatz had enough money back then you would have seen large herculean cab peripherals, made from cheap plastic, popping up in peoples homes… more than likely used once and left to gather dust in the corner. In fact a decade later you would have hung your rock band and guitar hero guitars from it due to lack of space so they could gather dust together in a dodecahedra like structure.
I am digressing a bit here but to get back on topic what I am trying to say in a roundabout way is with lack of the original style cab to hand I can’t 100% recreate that child-like state of mind when playing the arcade version.
I’ll Choose Both
However, in order to finally complete this game, I am going to use both versions mentioned to review it. The first few stages on the 32X until I finally hit another pillar and die and then continuing on in the arcade emulator (insert coins now to complete me damn it).
You play as a Space Harrier, a blonde haired chap strapped to a jetpack, yielding a laser cannon with pinpoint accuracy. Flying through the alien landscape and shooting down enemies you progress in a linear fashion eventually fighting a boss at the end of each stage.
The level design is very typical of Sega, bright and colourful. The pseudo-3D graphics with checkered floors makes me think this is what the world would look like on a bad Walter Bishop LSD trip.
The enemies fly in from the left and then usually in the same fashion from the right. The enemy designs were done well with different styles of attack and defences. Killing them would have been much easier if you weren’t dodging chunks of the landscape. This is what makes Space Harrier such a challenge it’s not just the enemies but the changing landscape that comes into view as you fly closer to it.
Great Music, Needs Better Bosses
The bosses on Space Harrier for me fell a little short after the first few stages. At first, you are fighting big EPIC dragons, it felt fresh and fun. In the later stages, you realise the same bosses were recycled again and again, just skinned differently. The bonus stages, on the other hand, made up for this; flying something that resembled Falkor the furry dragon from neverending story taking out the landscape you were once trying to dodge.
I already briefly mentioned the music, but for me, this is probably one of the best things about Space Harrier. It was catchy, charismatic and pure 80s sci-fi. It later added some great nostalgia for me when I was playing the new Sonic Racing Transformed on the Wii U. The guy who composed it credited only as the name “Bo” is a legend in gaming music for this one track alone.
Space Harrier Verdict
Overall this is a great game truly worthy of making it into Sega’s EPIC back catalogue of games. The arcade version opened up a new way forward for immersed gaming cabinets and the pseudo-3D graphics really pushed the boat out for a game released in the mid-80s. If you haven’t played it before I would definitely opt for any version after the 32X port for that true arcade in the home experience. The Megadrive (Genesis for my American friends), Gamegear and MasterSystem just weren’t quite there and it took Sega just under a decade to bring out a true version on a home console.