SEGA's arcade history has been swept under the rug for far too long. Most will point to Sonic the Hedgehog as the birthplace of the video game company, but for more than a decade before he first dashed into our homes on the Genesis, SEGA was pushing the boundaries of video games further than most companies ever dared to imagine in the arcade space.
In the mid-1980s, while Nintendo was destroying the Master System on the home market in America, SEGA had its hands full tangling with a far more classic foe in Namco. The two were pit against each other for nearly ten years, attempting to outperform the other's most recent hits and trends. It was true competition of trying to outclass the other guy rather than merely emulate him, and the results were an amazing barrage of arcade gems that peaked in mid-late 1980s.
Space Harrier was one of these classic influential titles, and now you can own it in true 3D for the first time on the 3DS for $5.99.
What exactly do I mean by "true 3D?" Space Harrier, along with many other of Yu Suzuki's hits from the time period, excelled at adding an extra dimension of depth to video games through forced perception.
Rather than have characters scroll to a single side of the screen, Suzuki and his team at SEGA AM2 created what was known as "Super Scaler," a technique which presents thousands of sprites at high frame rates, giving the illusion that they are traveling in an out of the screen in a third dimension.
The technique was applied to all of his hits, including the aerial combat series After Burner, the motorcycle racing game Super Hang-On (which also is now on sale as a $5.99 3D Classic purchase), and his popular racing series Outrun.
The Fantasy Zone
Space Harrier is commendable for being the first to perfect this formula in 16-bits. A few games before it attempted to add a mix of shooting to this new perspective, like SEGA's own Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom in 1982, but none had managed to reach the levels of intensity this game did.
It takes aim, balance, and lightning fast reflexes to get anywhere in the creepy world the titular harrier finds itself in. Everything from one eyed mammoths to alien spacecrafts, robots, and Chinese dragons fly at the harrier pilot in dizzying numbers, and its up to him to shoot them down while dodging trees, rocks, and Moai Heads.
The creatures of The Fantasy Zone take no prisoners. Dodge or be killed. Stay in one place, and you're toast.
Essentially, that's all it boils down to. Shoot as many enemies as possible. None can defend the shallowness of Space Harrier, but if played with the arcade mindset and taken in short bursts, nobody should really have to. It's the most basic form of a third-person shooter played at dizzying speeds that could give today's Gears of War spoiled rugrats nausea for a week.
Space Harrier is unadulterated fun from the peak of the Golden Age of Arcade Machines. You won't find a better representation of this classic anywhere else. Why? Because the effort is obviously there to take this release one step beyond.
A Little Extra Something
SEGA fans most likely own some sort of port for Space Harrier at this point, and it could be buried at the bottom of some compilation and they don't even know it! PlayStation 2 remakes, SEGA arcade packs on Steam, PSN, or Xbox Live. Perhaps you've even played it while exploring the streets of Yokosuka in Shenmue!
Chances are Space Harrier is in your game collection now, but don't bother looking for it because this 3DS version is the one you want.
What sets this release apart is the care given to it by the loyal developers at M2, all of whom are obvious fans of the company's heritage. The natural 3D effects look great, especially in the game's native resolution, and it brings an odd sense of fulfillment to finally see Space Harrier deliver on the 3D it tried to create nearly 30 years ago.
3D is not the only added feature, but M2 has also incorporated Gyro Controls to recreate the original arcade's tilt-controlled cabinet. Unwieldy for all but the most dedicated fans to master, but it's there if you want it. I'll stick to the 3DS analog stick, which I find far more effective when aiming for high scores.
The final additions come from options added to the menu screen used to give veterans new challenges if they've already mastered the basic game at some point in their lives. Changing difficulty levels, time trials, and giving more or less 1ups.
A Slim but Worthwhile Package
"Tell SEGA you want more with your money!"
3D Space Harrier is a blast from the past. It's pure technology, imagination, and fun wrapped up in a single brief experience, and any shooter fans owe it to themselves to play it in any way possible.
This Nintendo 3DS version is a bare-bones package, but that's just what arcades were like in the 1980s. I promise guys have dropped way more than $6 in quarters on this game through the course of their lives, so you should meet their bare minimum in one swift digital purchase.
More so than just straight up fun, Space Harrier is also a walk through history and a look into one of gaming longest rivalries, which, low and behold, is still going on today.
Namco and SEGA are still going at it on the Japanese arcade scene. How will SEGA's arch-rival respond to positive reception of its 3D Classics on the Nintendo 3DS. I'll be waiting for my 3D Splatterhouse, Namco! Give me a call when it happens!
In the meantime, be sure to pick up both 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-On on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. SEGA has more 3D Classics on the way to America throughout the whole month, and future development and localization depends on how well this first wave sells.
These two are the cream of the crop, but December 19th also has 3D Shinobi III and 3D Streets of Rage coming out. Tell SEGA you want more with your money!
Disclaimer: We purchased 3D Space Harrier with our own funds on the Nintendo 3DS, and we played it for several days before writing this review.