Title: スペースハリアー (Space Harrier)
Production/ Development: SEGA
Japan Release Date: diciembre 1985
Hardware: Space Harrier Board
ROM Size: 12,25 Megabits
In our last article, we noted that Hang-On’s development had been entrusted to Coreland Technology, while SEGA took on the production and direction of the game.
In contrast, in this second installment of the Super Scaler series, the entire team was part of SEGA so, even though we do not know the details, if a game with the size and substance of Space Harrier was born just five months later, we understand that management must have worked on both games at the same time for a while.
Either way, let’s dive for a few minutes in this fantasy world, half way between the oneiric and the psychedelic, called Dragon Land.
Let’s sit in the beautiful deluxe cabinet of Space Harrier. Aside from its imposing presence and suggestive design, the first thing that gets our attention is the control panel, dominated by a responsive, analog aircraft-style stick. If it were not for the attract screens, it would appear that the game might put us in command of a starship, instead of leading a blond kid armed with a cannon.
The surprise comes when we insert the coin and press the start button: the cab moves dynamically following the movement of the analog stick. The sound accompanying the movement of the machine comes from the hydraulic mechanism hiding in the cabinet, which is mitigated by the four-speaker stereo system. The feeling of immersion is shocking, especially if we put ourselves in the context of that time.
Our definition of Space Harrier would be that of a game with unique aesthetics, technically advanced and with outstanding sound, but very controversial in regards to playability. Unsurprisingly, this game arouses equal parts admiration and rejection.
As many of our readers know, Space Harrier became a myth in Japan, while in the West the fanbase for the game is much smaller due to it being a rare arcade machine, instead becoming known thanks to its adaptations to home systems. A shooting game where you control a guy with a flight stick in multiple directions, in stages with a limited visible area and where we shoot a cannon straight to all sorts of colorful creatures appearing from all points of the screen. What is now popularly known as Rail Shooter.
A frenetic video game, seemingly chaotic, which requires a good dose of accuracy and memorization to get through it. Its length is considerable, with a total of 18 stages (the last in the form of a boss rush) that always invites the player to get a little further. On the contrary, the presence of the continue option or the option to begin the Stage 1 with three lives per credit makes the challenge less durable.
The key to success is primarily based on knowing the points from which enemies will emerge, eliminating them before they fill the screen with projectiles, as well as understanding and mastering the analog control in order to make the character dance throughout the screen, preferably with circular moves in the case of the final bosses. It also is necessary to look at the various obstacles appearing on the scene, as not all can be destroyed with our weapon.
The scoring system, taken from Hang-On, inherited the steady flow of points, adding bonuses for destroying opponents or obstacles. The Bosses, being made up of multiple parts, require quite some precision and urgency in their elimination, especially since the will sometimes flee the scene if not killed quickly enough. Both bosses and scenarios have a unique design that only the mind of an artist can ever imagine. Even the names are peculiar with examples like Ceiciel, Lucasia, Drail, Squila or Stanray.
Technically, the game ran on a board similar to Hang-On’s, with the sole addition of an i8751 processor at 8 MHz, but the practical difference is dramatic: while the former would ocassionaly suffer from framerate dips or even from sprite flickering when multiple bikes were displayed at the same time, Space Harrier runs at a constant 60 fps with multiple enemies at different scales, obstacles and various bullets without any kind of slowdown. A graphical marvel that gets even better when considering the speed at which we move, which increases during peak times, such as the spectacular end of Stage 3 or the bonus stages where we ride our dragon.
On the audio side, this game continues using the same YM2203 as Hang-On, but very improved: great quality sampled voices, as well as convincing sound effects. But it’s in the musical side of things where we must take our hats off. Hiroshi Kawaguchi “Hiro” gave free rein to his talent, and the result was the wonderful main theme, beautifully arranged and with excellent instrumentation choices, which perfectly suit the action on screen. Its duration is longer than the usual, so it never gets boring, as it is ocasionally interrupted by other melodies when facing the bosses and then resumed at the same point where it was interrupted. Outstanding.
Space Harrier’s resounding success in Japan caused that almost every system from that time -and later- got a conversion. It also generated more than a few clones with similar mechanics, even on systems with little ability to do so, such as Famicom and MSX. It was not until ten years later that we could have a perfect conversion for Sega Saturn, but some of the earlier conversions are remarkable as well, such as the one by Sega for Mark III / Master System or the one by Dempa Micom for PC Engine and X68000.
Interestingly, SEGA decided not to follow up Space Harrier with a sequel for arcades, instead relegating that role to the Mega Drive cartridge Space Harrier II, a launch title in Japan. It’s a good game, with new places and enemies, but it was definitely not the same.
We encourage you to give a chance to this Super Scaler masterpiece. We cannot guarantee that the experience will get you as excited as we are, but even just experiencing its technical excellence will have made it worthwhile.
At Beep! Game Center, we aren’t Space Harrier great players, so in this case we prefer to link the YouTube channel Replay Burners. A super play in which the player neither lost a life.