Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. GET READY!
Hell, even if I were to think I was born ready for it, back in 1985 seeing and playing Sega’s Space Harrier for the first time in an arcade was a total and unexpected blast. Granted, it wasn’t my first psuedo-3D sprite-based shooter (Willams’ still phenomenal BLASTER was an instant fave for me two years earlier), but Yu Suzuki’s even more instant classic made for a more lasting impression thanks to its more superbly detailed visuals, rock-solid 60fps gameplay and yes, a somewhat crushing difficulty level for beginners. Watching someone play any of the three cabinet version was thrilling enough. But as a player, if you lucked out and got one of the sit-down versions with that big flight stick and body-shaking tilt feature, it was pure gaming bliss that left you maybe a bit wobbly after a few too many replays. Ah, memories!
Still, Suzuki’s game was perhaps too well made, just like his other supremely reliable arcade hits some take for granted these days. This is a game that is flawless in execution, but might be seen by the more jaded gamers out there as “repetitive” because they don’t see the beauty past the lightning fast speed and brilliant use of color. Ever busy developer M2 has done another outstanding job in porting the game to Switch for the ongoing SEGA AGES project ($7.99 per title) in both its original form with a new stage select, optional visual filter and control additions and a new version of the game called KOMAINU Barrier Attack that adds infinite continues and two small stone lion statues to aid Harrier in his quest.
All 18 stages are present and accounted for and yep, they throw everything at you at a lightning fast pace. The best thing about paying a measly eight bucks plus tax for this game is it’s going to be far less than what you’d spend in an arcade trying to beat the game back in the day. The difficulty factor relies on how you play the game, as mastering it relies on knowing how the game’s homing system works. Sure you can just jam on the fire button and hope to hit enemies and ordinance launched your way. Hell, there’s even a new rapid fire option that makes the blasting effortless. Still, knowing that constant movement is key and any ranged shots you take outside a certain distance will miss while shots closer in won’t help in your survival attempts. Well, except in that final stage where you get the same color background and sky as the enemy’s fireballs and yep, you’ll blow through a few lives and continues almost no matter what you do.
As for that KOMAINU Barrier Attack mode, don’t dismiss it off the bat without trying it out first. Sure it makes the game easier (much easier) with those dual lion statues taking the hits from certain objects. But Harrier can still buy the farm hard from all enemy shots and/or hitting obstacles by moving right in front of them as they appear on screen. If anything, I give M2 and Sega credit for adding a mode that will let people of any skill level see the ending of the game even though it’s not much by today’s standards. Spoiler alert? Uh, nope. It’s… well, an arcade game ending, circa 1985 where you get taken to the high score screen and then get bounced back to the title screen after entering your initials.
M2’s extra mile of work also includes a saved replay upon completion of the game and high score leaderboards so you can see how you’ve done against anyone who plays to completion and also registers their score. I was thrilled to see my initials temporarily at the top of the KOMAINU ranking even though my dang left Joy-Con wigged out on the name entry screen and you’ll see me as HED.H (thanks, Nintendo, grrrr!). As you can guess, the replay factor is quite high here, especially if you’re an old coot like me who loves SEGA’s history in creating a bunch of excellent games over the decades (which has me hoping M2 can port more of those older and not as well-recalled titles at some point down the road).
So, yes. This version of Space Harrier is what I’d call the best version to date outside the arcade original and yes, you kind of need to buy it NOW if you’re into the SEGA AGES collection. I’d add more to this review, but I’m in the middle of working on one for Puyo Puyo, which just so happens to be an equally stellar job from M2 worth that eight bucks. You’ll see soon enough,
Score: A (95%)
Review code provided by Sega of America