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Space Harrier – Sega Master System

Space Harrier – Sega Master System

Space Harrier - Sega Master SystemPlatform:  Sega Master System

Release Date (NA):  1986

Developer:  Sega

Publisher:  NEC

Genre:  Rail Shooter

Nerd Rating:  7 out of 10

Well here it is readers, my first official sit-down with the Sega Master System.  I’ve had the damn thing for years – at least 4, possibly pushing 6!  I’ve steadily accumulated games for this tapedeck-ish looking thing, even shelling out (relatively) big bucks for copies of Phantasy Star and Wonder Boy…I even sprung for the bygone 3D glasses that were produced for the console.  I’ve done all this, but I’ve never really sat down and played it until today.  Sure, when I got it I plugged it in and booted it up to make sure it worked – I even ordered a compatible mono composite cable so that I wouldn’t have to use that damn RF cable.  Yes sir, I was prepared, and today it paid off.  I dragged out all the equipment and after no more than a few blows on the carts, I was ready to go!

One of the first titles I popped in was Space Harrier.  Now while the Master System was a technological and chronological counterpart to the more popular NES, it helps to not think of it this way.  Instead, the Master System was a somewhat novel way (at the time) of putting many of Sega’s wildly popular arcade games into people’s homes.  Space Harrier may not impress the average gamer – probably not even your average 8/16-bit enthusiast.  But if we take even a cursory glance at the gaming landscape of 1986, it’s a fine piece of work.  The next time you’re enjoying your favorite Star Fox title take a second to tip your hat to Sega and Space Harrier.

In a sea of side-scrolling (or vertical-scrolling) shooters, Space Harrier is unique in that it falls somewhere between a rail shooter and a third-person shooter, though the perspective is closer to what we would properly consider a first-person shooter nowadays.  However, since the character is automatically propelled through space with player control relegated to up, down, right, and left, it pretty much fits the bill for what we’d define as a rail shooter.  The original arcade version boasted some impressive advancements for the time, and although it wouldn’t be possible to completely recreate the effect on the SMS, the unique style of motion and the “pseudo 3D graphics” immediately set Space Harrier apart from much of Master System’s library.

As mentioned, Space Harrier is pretty tame by today’s standards, and there’s not a lot of lengthy gameplay discussion to go into.  The game is set in the “fantasy zone,” something like a cross between a traditional fantasy world and how cartoons and older movies portray being “inside a computer.”  The player is this dude who has to ward off all kinds of aliens using his blaster cannon slash rocket propulsion device.  Even though he appears to be simply running, he can move around in the air as well.  There’s a quick cheat code that turns him into a jet instead of a human, which makes a lot more sense if you ask me.  The goal is simple: shoot everything, don’t run into anything.

Although the controls are as basic as they get, they’re also quite fluid for such an old game.  The quickened pace maintains an arcade feel and the graphics are able to keep up for the most part, though they do suffer a few “stutters.”  The graphics aren’t terribly detailed, but they’re big and bright and effectively move in and out of the background in what was a fairly advanced effect for the time.

Depth and pseudo-3D may be Space Harrier’s defining features, but such novelty comes at a cost.  As one would expect, objects (trees, enemy ships, fireballs, etc.) start off small and become larger as they approach the character.  Obviously you’ll want to move out of the way before these collide with you; the problem is that it’s not always obvious when the object is too close.  Without other external reference points, it can be difficult to tell if the object in question is going to “get bigger” again or slam into you.  Experience will alleviate the issue somewhat, but I still found myself the needless victim of such obstacles a couple of hours into gameplay because I thought I still had a second or two left before I needed to pull an evasive maneuver.  Ultimately it gets pretty tricky.  As the levels wear on, the player is confronted with an ever-increasing array of projectiles, kamikaze-like enemies, and stationary objects.  A certain level of precision is needed to navigate large, simultaneous numbers of obstacles, and this precision can be difficult to execute if you’re not crystal clear on what differentiates “safe” from “dead.”

All in all Space Harrier is a well above-average entry in the Master System’s library that should provide you with an equal dose of mindless shooting and constant evasive negotiation.  Ample use of color and the game’s rapid movement are the perfect representation of the late 80’s arcade experience and takes us back to the days where reflex still dominated gaming adroitness yet technology was taking us beyond the basic single-screen setups.  Space Harrier won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re looking for a shining example of what the industry looked like between the golden age of games Pac-Man and Space Invaders and Nintendo’s sweeping conquest of the US with games like Super Mario’ll at least want to take a look at this early foray into 3D.

By the way, if you happen to own this one, here are a few little built-in cheat codes to enhance your experience a little.  (Old games are hard…)

Effect Code
3 Extra Continues Press Down + Left + 1 on Game Over screen
Sound Test Right, Left, Down, Up on Title Screen
Secret Options Access Sound Test; play sounds 7, 4, 3, 7, 4, 8, 1

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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