When Sega released the Master System back in the ‘80s the company was facing an uphill struggle against Nintendo’s NES. The NES had the software support and thanks to Nintendo’s nefarious practice of making developers agree to keep their titles exclusive, it left Sega with little in the way of third party support. So the firm naturally relied on its own output – specifically its range of cutting edge arcade licences.
Space Harrier was one such conversion. It was the first home port of the hugely popular ‘super-scaler’ coin-op and considering the humble nature of the hardware it was pretty impressive back then and even now remains one of the better conversions available. Ironically the game was ported to the Famicom (the Japanese NES) with disastrous results.
If you’re not familiar with the general gist of the game then it shouldn’t take long to explain – you fly into the screen shooting enemies and avoiding bullets until you meet the end of level boss. Rinse and repeat. There really isn’t much else to it, and it’s this simplicity which proves to be Space Harrier’s key strength and greatest weakness.
As an arcade game, such directly engaging gameplay is perfect as you’re unlikely to spend more than a few minutes in front of the machine. However, as a domestic release it works less well – granted, it’s still instantly accessible but after a few hours the lack of variety will annoy. Still, this is an amazing technical achievement and although the visuals are sometimes a bit garish, the relatively smooth scrolling and large sprites always impress.
Space Harrier might not be the most deep game in the world but if you’re a fan then this is one of the best ways to play it in your home. Just don’t expect it to hold your attention for very long.