(VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Space Harrier (VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Game Review

Space Harrier Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

An interesting slice of gaming history for fans of early 3D games.

Space Harrier is notable for being one of the first arcade games to use a motorised cabinet in its sit-down version, and in the realms of sprite-based third-person 3D shooters it's certainly at the more advanced end of the scale. It was highly popular back when it was released in the mid-80s - a fact borne out by the numerous ports it's had across several game consoles - but has it stood the test of time?

According to the Operation Guide for the Virtual Console Arcade version of the game you are the Space Harrier; your mission in the Fantasy Zone is to fight the baddies who are endangering the dragons who live there - basically you need to shoot everything in sight, as usual! The Space Harrier himself is a blond kid holding a giant rocket with a laser cannon attached to it, who can either run along the ground or fly up in the air. Zipping through the Fantasy Zone you'll see much shrubbery and giant trees, giant stone heads and pillars, dragons with one or two heads, enormous mushrooms, various mechanical enemies like ships and mechas or flying tentacled balls, winged goggle-eyed monsters and cyclopean mammoths. All of these things are very colourful and presented in an aspect ratio that will nearly fill a widescreen display with only small black borders around the screen. The game also makes use of surround sound and has a decent electro soundtrack which was released as part of a CD collection in Japan soon after release in the arcades.

The game is presented in what is technically 3rd person, since you control a character, however in terms of how the game is played you could substitute a set of crosshairs for the Space Harrier and you wouldn't know the difference. Scenery is largely destructible, though as you progress through the game you'll go through areas with large amounts of things you cannot destroy, becoming more like obstacle courses with a rather unfair difficulty curve since scenery pop-ups much closer on the horizon than enemies. Firing and moving constantly are required if you're to survive for long in the game, though you're assisted by partially guided shots which move into enemies as they get closer. Rapid movement isn't helped by oversensitive analogue controls which also automatically place the character in the centre of the screen when the stick is released. Interestingly the default option if using the nunchuk is called Arcade Mode, which uses the nunchuck itself as the movement control. Although tilting your nunchuk to simulate an analogue flight stick sounds a bit strange, it's actually a more precise control method than using the control stick on the nunchuk or the left analogue thumbstick on the Classic Controller. Using the default sensitivity on the motion controls makes the character shudder about as if he were having spasms, so this probably isn't a great control scheme for people who like more stability in their game visuals.

The most stable control method is probably the D-pad on the Wii remote or Classic Controller, which not only provides more precise control over character movement, but also benefits from not wanting to put the character back in the centre of the screen all the time. The remote on its own doesn't work too well because the analogue input is still required for signing your name up on the high score table, so without the nunchuk the character select just continually scrolls through the letters at high speed. As a result the Classic Controller ends up being the best controller for the game.

The lack of precision in the analogue control was probably a design decision to encourage feeding coins into the game to see what's next, as there are many easy deaths to be had from hitting the indestructible objects that can pop-up with little warning. You can not only continue a game, but then buy dozens of additional lives by continuing to insert coins whilst the game is playing. On a home console this tends to remove much of the challenge of the game; even more so as your score remains unchanged regardless of how many dozens of lives you buy or times you continue. The cheap deaths are rendered moot at home and make a game that was challenging and technically impressive in the arcade into something of a repetitive chore, as you'll start seeing the same enemies repeated by the time you reach stage 10 or 11 and begin wondering if the game will ever end.


In its day, Space Harrier was a technical marvel; it's easy to see how playing this game in a giant moving cabinet could have been quite an experience when it was first released. It certainly created a spectacle with its vibrant 3D graphics and active soundtrack, but without adapting the difficulty for home console use you're left with a game than can be fun to play once in a while, but is only likely to provide long-term entertainment for people who were big fans when it was in the arcades.

From the web

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User Comments (27)



James said:

But it's Space Harrier! I can't believe I approved this score. I love Space Harrier, although I think I probably own enough copies of it not to buy this one. But... it's Space Harrier!



JaredJ said:

This scores lower than the Master System version? That just doesn't sound right.



Dazza said:

@JJ - I suppose you could say the Master System version stands up better in comparison to other 8-bit console games than this does when compared to arcade games of it's time (Out Run, Afterburner, Super Hang On, etc). Reviewing an actual arcade game requires a different measure as would a full Wii retail game.



Corbs said:

Flashy title back in the day, but it's really showing its age now. I think a 5 was just about right.



KnucklesSonic8 said:

Didn't really make a difference to me what the score was. I'm still getting this. Review itself was pretty good save for the ending. Have one/two issues with it but whatever.

@Dazza: Still. The Master System version was a port and a not-so-good one at that. Honestly, it all boils down to your personal enjoyment with the title and the fact that it was said that it probably won't appeal to non-fans seems a little silly to me for some reason. I guess it's because I enjoy Tower of Druaga despite the fact that I've never played it before.



djshep1973 said:

Fair score I'd say, I was thinking 5 or 6/10 as I was reading the review - and I'd pretty much agree with most of it. Although I probably won't play it that much, I am kind of glad I downloaded it, just as it's a decent chunk of my childhood there. I used to love hearing the speech booming out of the cabinet across the arcade I used to go in!

Here's hoping this VC Arcade release is a good omen that we might see Afterburner and Outrun on the VCA too.



SwerdMurd said:

it's...just...so...unplayable. Haven't played this version, but the Sonic Collection version was ridiculously fast, and it was just too trial-and-error to really enjoy...whether it aged badly or not, I can't imagine ever enjoying this gameplay at any age...



astarisborn94 said:

Please re-review this game again, because you all know that it's the best version of Space Harrier. Still intrested, but if it's the only game next week, I'll still won't like it.

However, at least it's not all boring, aged, worned down 1970's-early 1980's this time. Good for you, we hope to get NOA to realize that we want more modern arcade games. And this fits the bill, if not perfectly.



Gizmo said:

I thought that this is the best version of the game, like it was said in the news?: "It goes without saying though that this is the best version of the original game you could possibly ask for"

And why is this review in the 'Retro section' and not in the 'Virtual Console' section? I almost didn't take notice of it because the review isn't in the 'Virtual Console-RSS-Feed'.



AUnkownFuture said:

What 5/10 thats.... well disappointing. well i wont be getting it. looks like i have to wait for After Burner 2.




Good revw. Glad I didn't download this. I vaguely remember playing this in the arcade in some kind of booth that simulated the movement....i think...It was way back in the day of course.



Sean_Aaron said:

With regard to comments concerning the console version on the Master System, I haven't played it, however if the game was tweaked such that the difficulty curve was adjusted for home play and the graphics weren't too terrible then it might well be a better experience.

I'd say generally that this kind of game doesn't adapt well to home use. Starblade and Solvalou are also out on the VCA in Japan and are both rails shooters, but Solvalou has a better difficulty curve and Starblade is short enough in total length that playing it for score attacks is more practical. Neither one of them begs much repeat play though.

The best rails shooters from the arcade as far as I'm concerned are the two Star Wars games from Atari, which had nice short campaigns with a decent difficulty ramp-up and were played for high score value rather than to reach an ending. Naturally with a Lucasfilm license attached I've got a very bad feeling about seeing these on the VCA...



KnucklesSonic8 said:

But "repeat play" is based entirely on one's motivation with the title, that is, if they enjoy the core game that much and it works well enough that they want to go for high-scores and such.



Egg_miester said:

space harrier is the best 3d shooter series and i can't wait for the states to get this game



Outrunner said:

Le gasp! 5?! A 10 dear boy and no less! Lol nah I respect your opinion but this is easily one of my favourite arcade games ever. Even with the endless credits, your score will still be better at the end the more skill you have.



Sean_Aaron said:

Hey, it's only my opinion and a 5 isn't the end of the world for any title; re-read the scoring policy and remember that all reviews are subjective.

I can assure you if I was reviewing Defender it would probably get somewhere north of a 7. Space Harrier is not Defender, sorry.



That_Guy_from_Faxana said:

5 is suitable. I´ve played it as a bonus game in Shenmue, and that´s enough for me. Space Harrier is a cult classic, but it didn´t get me hooked. Expensive price too, especially since us DC-lovers can play it for free...



BulbasaurusRex said:

I can accept a 5 if the Master System version had gotten a 4, but since that inferior version got a 6, this version deserves a 7. It's unacceptable for the inferior port to get a higher score. Would this have scored better if there were limited lives like in the console ports? Besides, that feature may have even improved this version, since the difficulty is so high. I could never get past level 5 (not counting the first bonus level) in the 32X version without cheating even on the easy difficulty.

Anyway, I'm definitely getting this when it comes to North America, since it was my 2nd favorite 32X game (after Star Wars Arcade), and it's unlikely that we'll see Sega 32X games on the VC anytime soon (and my actual 32X broke years ago). Too bad it didn't get released here today.



earl_wickrue said:

Yes, yes. Continue getting your collective knickers in a tight little bunch over the relative ratings on this versus the master system version, of this crappy gimmicky arcade title. All I gotta say is, it ain't time pilot or anything. Ha Ha Ha
P.s. I got a huge kick out of the 32x lover a few posts above me. Even the few "interesting" games on that POS(Kolbri, and that wierd rhythm and platform one) are virtually unplayable.



BulbasaurusRex said:

I didn't say I loved the 32X.. It was weird how it was an add-on to the Genesis, and there certainly aren't very many games for it, but there were some good ones like my 3 favorites, Star Wars Arcade, Space Harrier (a good port unlike the Master System version), and Motocross Championship. I wish that I had gotten Knuckles Chaotix when my 32X was working.



Jazzem said:

I played this back on Shenmue and did like it, though due to the strict no credits rule I could never get far. When I heard this was coming to VC, I was pretty excited I love classic Sega.

But then I saw this review...hmm, that held me back a bit. Nonetheless, I had the feeling that with all due respect to the reviewer, I'd disagree. So I went and downloaded it anyway...

And I absolutely love it. It's fast, it's exhilarating, it's insane, I'm having tons of fun with it! I'm actually using nunchuk mode for tilting, which is a little over-sensitive, but when you get used to it it works really well. I can see where the reviewer is coming from with his points, but for me part of the fun is just how fast and challenging it is. Sure, it is ruthlessly hard, and you'll die endlessly, but when you're quickly up again and zooming through checkered plains full of mushrooms, branching trees and monster after monster, I'm having too much fun to mind it

Long story short, I love this game, Mr Aaron doesn't. That's fine of course, we both have our reasons and we've both come out of a game with different impressions. To anyone thinking about getting it, don't get 100% turned off due to the review, but at the same time consider it along with other impressions and perhaps a video or two. It is perhaps a bit pricey for such a downright-arcade game, but it's one of the most downright enjoyable games I've downloaded on the Wii. Of course I could eventually get fed up of it, but I could equally see myself coming back to it now and then in the future

And that theme tune, oh that theme tune!



Viewtiful said:

I completely agree with Jazzem. Although I didnt play it much as I would've liked in the arcades when it was popular, this version of the game is as good as it gets.

As was mentioned, the reason why us old gamers like this game, is because we always wanted to have the best version available for our homeconsoles. the only version I owned was the Sega Genesis(Megadrive) version, it was ok, but not as true to the original as this one.

Id say its really a no brainer if you like Space Harrier, this is the version to own.

But to get the complete Space Harrier experience, you will need this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg80OLBoC4U ofcourse



Omega said:

If someone told me that I would own the original Sega Arcade version of Space Harrier someday. I would have said they were crazy. This game alone is worth to own the Wii if you can appreciate classic, original games.

I remember playing the really crappy C64 version (from Elite systems) over and over and over again because I've seen this game in an arcade and I loved it soo much. And I wanted it! Yes, more than anything else in the world. And now I can have it for 8 Euros. That's awesome. Yipee!

And about the score. Who cares? I mean, if you started playing games with Super Mario Galaxy then this one in comparison looks like a load of crap. Not even worth a 5/10. But if you started playing games with things like Pong or Space Invaders then it makes your heart race when you see it and only a rating of 12/10 is acceptable.

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