“Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. Get ready!”
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a bloke with luscious flowing locks, armed with a mahoosive hand cannon, allegedly equipped with a jet pack (yet I can’t see it – possibly his gun?). It’s Space Harrier. Unleashed onto the arcade by Sega in 1985 and developed by Yu Suzuki (who also helped craft Hang On, Out Run, After Burner and Virtua Racing amongst many others), Space Harrier is a third person, on rails shooter. It’s the story of a man who has realised he’s left the stove on at home and has to quickly rush back to turn it off as he’s concerned not only about the risk of fire to his space galaxy property but also the increase in his space galaxy utility bills. Namely space gas which has gone through the roof in recent months due to tension in the space middle east zone. I think that’s the basic premise anyway as you’re not given any back story, so we’ll go with that.
At the time of its release Space Harrier was a huge success and the first to be running on Sega’s Super Scaler series of pseudo-3D arcade hardware and according to the flyer, the first time “a graphic capacity of 1.2M” was used in an amusement game machine. I can recall being blown away by this upon release and in particular the sit down rolling motion cabinet which felt like you were ACTUALLY nipping home to turn the gas off. The flyer describes the gameplay as thus;
– Attack the enemy with the SHOOT button.
– Avoid the obstacles by moving the Joystick in the backward/forward, horizontal and diagonal directions.
-When all of the players are lost, the game is over.
So far so simple… The current world record on the Arcade over at Twin Galaxies is 42,384,290 held by Philip Campbell and the MAME record, our emulation platform of choice, is 32,270,540 by Stu R Rankin. Are these reachable? Are these surpassable? Are these even worth bothering with? Only the Ten Pence Arcade duo and its merry band of listeners can find out…
The settings as as follows;
Space Harrier by Sega
Rev A 8751 315-5163A
Lives – 3 (press the credit button only ONCE)
Extra life at 5m
Difficulty – Medium
Remember! No continues!
2,568,410 – STAGE 1 – MOOT. The first stage features lush scenery, such as trees, bushes and floating rocks and a checkerboard floor. I don’t envy the fantasy zone council workers who had to paint these I tell you. Bushes trip you up, whilst hitting a tree or rock kills you. However, you can shoot all of the above, so I suggest you do this instead of colliding with them (Sull’s Obvious Tip #1). Enemies hurtle towards you with the greatest of speed but with the poorest accuracy. They’ll aim for where you are so keep flight of foot ( or jet pack ) and keep moving. Aside from the stationary objects, the only enemies which will cause you any issue on the stage are the Tomos which can only be hit while they’re open. At the end of the level a huge fire ball breathing dragon awaits. It’s only weak point is it’s head. Hit anywhere else and your bullet ricochet like a poor stand up’s punchline. Shoot him five times in his fizog in order to change his color enough to destroy him. You know he’s ready for the knackers yard when he turns red. One more and he’s outta there!
STAGE 2 – GEEZA. This stage, like the one before it consists of floating rocks and bushes, yet where the previous stage had trees this has columns reminiscent of that early stage on Outrun where it sends your eyes all funny, and plenty of them too. Part way through the level, prior to the columns, you come face to face with some pretty dodgy looking stone heads, which according to the Internet are called Ida. These aren’t too difficult to beat but they are creepy looking things. It’s these and the columns which deprive me of most of my lives. Each go I have I cannot seem to come through this stage without losing a life on the columns. One thing that is apparent is that upon losing a like the standard brief reprieve window of not being invincible is VERY brief. Don’t drop your guard or your Harrier will become mince meat sharpish. The game does have a tender side. When you do lose a life it generously gees you up with a “Ready ? Many more battle scenes will soon be available !” Yeah. If I stop dying that is. The end of stage boss is a very looking angry head, surrounded by the creepy heads. Shoot and move a lot and it’s easily dispatched (Sull’s Obvious Tip #2)
STAGE 3 – AMAR Now it’s got pretty trippy. What do you mean it’s trippy enough already? This level replaces the bushes with ginormous magic mushrooms and rocks with huge fungus balloons. Theres a lot to take in on this stage and the action ramps up to a frenetic pace. A fungus balloon ends my life. Game over.
5,788,750 – STAGE 3 – AMAR I reach the end of stage and once again it’s a dragon but this time a TWO headed dragon with humanesque face which oddly resembles Brian Blessed and has a fluorescent green arse. Too much spinach perhaps… The attack pattern is similar to stage 1’s dragon but with twice as much firepower owing to the two heads. I conquer old Brian and progess on to…
STAGE 4 – CEICIEL This is not for the claustrophobic. A ceiling lowers and we’re into avoid-em up territory as wave after wave of columns and static metal balls come at you, interspersed with the odd enemy ship. The static balls are only ever at the top or bottom of the screen so they’re pretty easy to avoid. Make your way beyond these and then end of the level boss or bosses is the first time you come face to face with the big robot Space Harrier is sat in the shoulder of on the title screen. They’re rapid moving, catch me off guard and it’s game over.
7,880,190 – STAGE 4 – CEICEL This time I go on a bit of a tear and pass through stage 4 with nary a scratch. Keep moving and quickly destroy the the robots at the end of the stage rather than dilly dally and they’re not really much different to regular enemies. Which is what they end up being in later levels.
STAGE 5 – BONUS STAGE Now is the time to catch your breath somewhat. A grey haired friendly cat faced dragon with a penchant for showing you it’s scrotum comes along and takes you on a vandalism trip. It’s sole objective is to have you guide it towards trees so they can be destroyed. For this wanton trail of destruction you awarded a whole bunch of points at the end of the level. The cat dragon thing can only be controlled left to right, so vaguely aim for the trees to tot up the points. Do it well and you can total close to 2 million. I however am not good enough for this…
STAGE 6 – OLISIS These stage names are bonkers aren’t they? It’s almost as if someone has fed scrabble tiles to their dog and made the names up from each dog egg. Olisis is wave after wave of jets and the aforementioned robots from stage 4 along with an abundance of columns. Also there is a single red robot who is a lot harder to hit. He nails me and it’s curtains.
8,611,090 – STAGE 6 – OLISIS This time I reach the end of level boss who appears after you defeat the single red robot. The boss is a cluster of GM modified blue peanuts unleashing a constant stream of bullets at you. It sit’s stationary in the middle of the screen and as such is not much of a threat. Simply rotate round clockwise (or anti-clockwise) shooting at all times and he’s easily dispatched.
STAGE 7 – LUCASIA – Yes! Finally we get to see the one eyed mammoths from the title screen. Unfortunately they’re not an enemy, merely an object, a stationary sitting duck for you to kill. I feel a bit mean killing these poor defenseless mammoth but hey points are up for grabs here so lets not get too soppy… The level features all the enemies you’ve seen before with the added bonus of snow lumps and ice shards begging to be run into. Which I do and I die. G.O. That stands for (Game Over)
10,154,250 – STAGE 7 – LUCASIA The end of level boss is a circle of eight enemies which rotate clockwise, open and shoot at you. Like the level before these are easily defeated by circling round the screen. Lead on MacDuff to Stage 8!
STAGE 8 – IDA With a title like that, it can only mean one thing. A small dog egg. Oh sorry, I meant a level featuring everyone’s favourite creepy stone head, Ida. This stage is something of a greatest hits in terms of foes. All manner of bad guys make an reappearance wanting to rearrange Space Harrier’s face. This is due to Ida’s stony complexion and he’s overwhelmed with envy on account of Space Harrier delicate complexion and flowing golden locks. Jealousy only gets you so far in life and it’s proves to be Ida’s downfall as I reach the end of the level, which again is a head circled by Ida’s as in Stage 2. This time the central ugly bonce is a tad tougher to kill. Seems to require a lot of shots and certianly faster than the previous incarnation. But I manage to progress to Stage 9.
STAGE 9 – REVI This level plays like Stage 4. The ceiling closes down and it’s a case of avoiding columns and static metal balls again. And due to losing concentration, I don’t. Game Over. Which is disappointing considering I’m a dab hand at Stage 4 after a week or so of playing this but I have passed my own personal 10 million benchmark.
And with that it’s Ten Pence Arcade deadline time… The years have been somewhat kind to Space Harrier when compared to it’s contemporaries. Yes, the sprite scaling is a tad stuttering when observes through a modern day prism. The music on the other hand still stands up. Composed by Hiroshi Kawaguchi (who also composed the brilliant Out Run themes), it’s a rampant beat driven throwback to the 80s so much that you can almost smell the Soda Streams and Hai Karate. The main cristiscm has to be the viewing angle. And until you become familiar with the game it’s this that lets it down at times. Why allow the Harrier to run across the floor but position the camera in such a way that you can’t see the onrushing objects due to his arse? And this is not restricted to ground travel either. When getting to grips with the game in my early attempts, I was often killed by enemy bullets or trees or columns which I simply didn’t see due to Space Harrier’s backside so much I rechristened him Space Rearer. All this means however is that until you become familiar with the stages and the enemy patterns you have to keep moving as if you’ve had an onset of St Vitus’s dance. As with some of the old games, going back is not always a good idea. Rose Tinted glasses and all that but I can say that this has aged very well and is worthy of a revisit every now and again. To get the most fun out it though, I suggest seek out an original cab with the original flight stick controls. There’s currently one at Arcade Club for those in the UK. For those on MAME I really advise you get a PS or XBOX controller configured. I used an old PS3 one I had knocking about along with the instructions over at Digital Trends Certainly beats a digital stick and god forbid a keyboard!
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