Monday, 18 August 2014

Sega Super Scaler Games #2

Space Harrier (1985)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 6,625,540
Also Available For: Saturn, 32X, Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, Sharp X1, PC Engine, NES, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

These cyclops mammoths rule! How can they be enemies?
Sega's iconic Space Harrier might have just missed out on being the first Super Scaler game released, but it quickly became the most popular arcade game around at the time, and remains one of the most fondly recalled today. However, some say its greatness can only truly be experienced in its native setting - in other words in the large sit-down machine with all its hydraulic wibbling. It's a fair point I suppose but I resolved to find out by giving it my first proper play for a good number of years. Actually, now that I think about it, Sega never really gave this game much a back-story, did they? I suppose it's not really necessary for what was essentially intended a tech-demo, but one thing they did do was to base their fancy adventure in a bizarre land called the Fantasy Zone, later to be populated by Opa-Opa and overthrown by the evil Menons of course.

It seems a shame to shoot all the lovely trees and bushes...
It's not those pesky coin-spewing beasties causing trouble this time though. Here, the 'Dragon Land' has apparently been occupied by scary 'barbaric and evil creatures, and controlled by supernatural phenomena'. I'm guessing Dragon Land is therefore a part of the Fantasy Zone but either way the objective is the same - shoot anything that moves, and a good few things that don't too! Our hero doesn't seem to have a name but he is a 'seasoned veteran of many space wars', probably at least partly because he can fly and shoot a huge cannon with unlimited ammo, and it's by using both of these skills that you must help him cleanse 18 stages of alien filth, ranging from spacecraft and all manner of alien creatures to stuff like boulders, icosahedron things, and even stone faces.

Jellyfish things attack from the air en masse...
Then there's the much larger and scarier (though not always that much tougher) bosses who are perhaps the most impressive part of the game, many consisting of splendid (and long) wibbly dragons and suchlike. The gameplay is just as simple as I remember though. There are bonus rounds on stages five and twelve which see you riding atop a NeverEnding Story-style dragon/dog thing with the aim of smashing down as much of the landscape as possible by flying into it on the apparently durable creature, but there are no power-ups, nothing to collect, and no special tricks to perform. Simply holding down the fire button and weaving around to avoid the mass of oncoming bullets is about as complicated as things get here. Not that that's a bad thing. It was those visuals that got all the attention back then though, and happily they're still very appealing.

These radio antenna things can be a right pain...
The colours of the landscape and sky aren't as bright or varied as I remember, with mostly pale, even dull colours used, but they rush towards our hero at a decent rate, with the former giving you plenty of obstacles to hastily avoid such as trees, pillars, and even giant toadstools, and the enemies and especially their bullets move even faster as you would expect. That famous scaling effect still looks decent too, flinging dangers at you at quite alarming speeds at times, and it effects the gameplay as well as making things look fancy - many enemies fly onto the screen in formation from the sides and if you can shoot them while doing this they don't get a chance to swoop back around and pop off a few shots at you, although this doesn't quite work with the bosses who usually get to swoop around for a while before kicking it. All this shooting has a down side though, as the loud sound effects sadly drown out the fantastic music.

These things aren't as tough as they look...
I hadn't yet discovered the world of video games when Space Harrier was originally released so I can only imagine how jaw-dropping its visuals (and oft-overlooked music) must've been at the time. Though among the more gracefully ageing of the Super Scaler games, a great deal of this impact is obviously lost today and enjoyment of it has to instead rely almost solely on the quality of its gameplay, although I imagine a good healthy dollop of nostalgia helps things along! Much like Out Run for me, I expect most gamers that still play Space Harrier regularly are ones who grew up being jolted around by it in their local arcade, but it's definitely still an addictive and enjoyable blaster in its own right. That said, why on earth haven't Sega made a sequel for PSN or XBLA? Imagine playing something like this but even faster and with all those flashy neon graphics that are so popular these days! The great Space Harrier name could make jaws drop all over again...

RKS Score: 8/10


  1. I remember this game!
    We used to play the Game Gear :D

  2. The GG has a good version, very colourful :)

  3. Super sweet...this, After Burner, Out Run, Hang On etc...Sega at their best.

  4. Yep, I think they had two golden ages in the arcade - first the Super Scaler games, then later their Model 2 games (VF2, Sega Rally, Daytona, etc). I think the Scaler era was my favourite though