Space Harrier

A bad trip I don’t want to relive…

Space Harrier was a big hit in the arcades so, in 1986, Sega ported the game to the Sega Master System. The game showcased what the Master System could do while providing a solid port to the game so many loved. For this review, it was my first time playing Space Harrier. Would I love it or hate it? What did I think of everything flying at me every two seconds and the acid-trip graphics?

If you wait a few seconds on the main menu before playing, a prologue to Space Harrier appears. This is what it says:

“Once upon a time there existed a beautiful utopia located far, far beyond the most distant galaxy of the universe, called “Dragon Land”.

It was a peaceful world brimming over with life and light. Then suddenly in the space year 6226, a dastardly scheme carefully orchestrated by the evil one was unleashed on this land which had once been a “Garden of Eden”. Supernatural phenomena became rampant throughout the devasted planet and barbaric and evil creatures could literally be seen roaming everywhere. Although everything imaginable appeared to have been destroyed on Dragon Land, the only living that that continued to resist the forces of evil was “Uriah”, a friendly dragon. He was nearly at his wits’ end in his unrelenting search for a savior, when lo and behold, a fighter from Earth with superhuman ability and physic powers heard his plea for help and arrived on the scene to help save the day.

Now, with the whole universe as your audience, a legendary battle that is surely destined to be passed down to future generations, is about to unfold.”

If you think that the writers were on acid when they wrote the prologue, wait until you see the graphics. The programmers had to have been on something stronger. Anyway, that’s the story of Space Harrier.

Space Harrier is unlike any video game of its time on a home console, at least to my knowledge. There was nothing like it on the Sega Master System or for the Nintendo for that matter. In Space Harrier, you’ll play as a blonde man who can run and fly by moving him up and down with the direction pad as well as left and right. The game is a “rail shooter” but presented in a very fast-paced action with tons of enemies and objects on the screen. Don’t let the cute menu fool you. Sure, a blonde-haired man is waving at you, and a happy mech robot with a shiny gun sits peacefully, and some type of hairy mammoth that is the best friend to Big Bird winks at you, but this game wants to murder you. Over, and over.

Sega did a wonderful job porting the game to the Master System. There is no issue with speed and the sprites are huge! They will start off small as they look to be in the distance and as you run/fly toward them they grow in size until they are nearly the size of the entire screen. The goal of Space Harrier is to avoid all of these objects as they fly at you with top speed. These objects include pillars, steel balls, rocks, mushrooms, trees, and other strange things. You’ll have a split second to decide which direction to go to avoid a collision. If you hit any of these objects you’ll lose a life as you fall to the ground. If you go through your three lives, then it’s game over!

Objects aren’t the only things you need to worry about as you make your way through 18 levels of non-stop action. There are also enemies both on the ground and flying through the air that you’ll have to avoid or shoot with your gun. These enemies range from skulls, marbles, spaceships, and other objects that are indescribable. Usually, they will come in threes, and aside from getting in your way, they also shoot bullets at you that you need to avoid. With all of this happening on screen in the form of humongous sprites, it can be a bit overwhelming.

The color palette to Space Harrier comes straight from an acid trip. Everything is neon and vibrant from the pinks, blues, and greens. You’ll feel like you’re going down a tunnel on a bad trip as monsters cross your path or mushrooms hop toward you. It’s impressive that Space Harrier has such large sprites but they also did a great job with the hitbox around your character. I didn’t feel like I had any cheap deaths during my playthrough.

It’s hard to distinguish between objects that are exploding from your bullets and the fiery bullets that enemies are shooting at you. There were many times when I was killed because I couldn’t tell which was what and it had me frustrated. Level 9 was a nightmare along with another level further in the game. These levels were “speed” levels meaning that an already fast-paced game doubled in speed making it feel like you’ve jumped to lightspeed in a rainbow tunnel.

Bosses were at the end of each level and for the most part, were manageable. Let me rephrase that, Space Harrier as a whole was manageable because I was playing on an emulator and could pause and save whenever I wished. I could never beat this game in a million years on my own. The final level was a boss rush which I hated and it ended with the most impossible boss that I’ve ever encountered. Even with the ability to save whenever I wanted, it took me at least 50 tries to beat the two-headed fire dragon that nearly blended into the screen. It was simply too much and I’d love to see someone beat this game in person on a real Master System. This was the toughest final boss I’ve ever encountered as I died every two seconds for a solid twenty minutes before beating him. It was extremely frustrating and it felt unfair.

I had seen Space Harrier a few times from video game channels on YouTube, most particularly GameSack but I never expected it to be as tough as it was. I’m thankful I played it but man, this is near impossible to beat.

Space Harrier shows off what the Sega Master System is capable of in an extremely fast-paced rail shooter filled to the brim with trippy colors, large sprites, and shrooms straight from a nightmare. It’s impressive that Sega managed to get this game ported but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. The final boss was insane and it takes this game down a few notches to go along with the overall bizarre tone of Space Harrier. Play if you dare, you won’t live long.

Space Harrier scores a 6 out of 10.

Do you remember when Space Harrier first came out? Were you impressed with the graphics? What did you think of the trippy colors and weird enemies? Don’t lie to me and tell me you beat it, I won’t believe you. Let me know your memories and thoughts, I’d love to read the comments.

If you’d like to own a copy of Space Harrier, you can purchase a used copy of it for the Sega Master System for $20 on eBay.

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