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SEGA Versus: Space Harrier [Part Two]

Welcome to the fantasy zone and to this second part of a very special edition of SEGA Versus. We are about to continue onwards in our journey through the Dragonland’s, discussing and comparing a whopping eight different titles. Who knew there were so many different versions of Space Harrier- and that’s not even counting some of the more recent digital re-releases!

But wait! If you haven’t done so already, we would recommend heading over to part one of this article and giving it a read. While knowledge of the first part in this two part special is not essential, references to it will be made and there are a total of eight versions you may have missed out on, some good and some downright awful.

Once you are ready to continue, get yourself comfortable, put on some relevant background music and join me as we venture through an astonishing twenty five years worth of Space Harrier goodness!

SEGA VS - Space Harrier - 1988 Banner

We return once again to 1988, clearly a popular year for Space Harrier ports. With two versions of the game already released, one for the Sharp X1 and one on the Amiga, it was now time for the Atari ST, PC-Engine and even the Nintendo Famicom to jump on the bandwagon! First up, we have our old friends over at Elite Systems returning with a new version of Space Harrier for the Atari ST.

This home computer system was released in the June of 1985 and first retailed at the jaw dropping price of $799. Did we mention that was for the monochrome version? If consumers wanted themselves a colour monitor it would cost them an additional $200, leaving the final price to be just shy under a grand. So, what did you get yourself for all that hard earned cash? An 8MHz processor and an incredible 512KB worth of memory. Sounds good, right? While it’s maybe not so impressive today, the Atari ST was top of the range for its time. This was 1988 after all and the home computer was still a relatively new concept. The Atari ST was home to a decent amount of games and applications, with even the likes of Peter Molyneux and Doug Bell developing software for the system.

Space Harrier - Atari ST [1988]
The ugly mug you see on the right side of the screen is part of one of Elite Systems gaudy banners.

Unlike their efforts on the ZX Spectrum, Elite Systems certainly did the original arcade title justice with this fantastic port for the home computer system. The gameplay is fluid, the visuals are top notch and the controls are a joy when using the mouse as an input device. Sprites are well drawn with bosses looking just as good as they did in the arcade version. Backgrounds are beautiful too, every inch filled with colour that often helps in giving a lovely sunset style backdrop.

One downside to the game however would be the ever present Elite Systems watermark (or banner) placed vertically along the right side of the screen. While the game is designed with this banner in mind, it’s a shame this area wasn’t used for extra screen space. This was definitely achievable on the system, as it’s still possible to see the environment scrolling along underneath said banner. Still, it’s a minor downside to an accurate port of the original game and it certainly doesn’t detract from the gameplay too much.

The Atari ST version of Space Harrier is a solid game that we recommend trying our for yourselves!

Our next title is an interesting one. Developed by Japanese toy and video game company Takara, this version of the game was released on SEGA’s main competitors system, the Famicom (or the Nintendo Entertainment System as it is known in Europe and the US.)

Space Harrier - Famicom [1988]
The Famicom version is impressive and we encourage even the most hardcore SEGA Nerd to pick up a system and check it out!

Blasphemy, you shout. SEGA would never release games on their rival system, at least not back then! You would be surprised, as even the famous SEGA classic Altered Beast made its way onto the system to join Space Harrier in 1988. While it was a very unusual affair, it was only these two games that were licensed and released on the Famicom. Even then, neither one made it outside of Japan. There were a couple of unlicensed titles including After Burner and Fantasy Zone, but don’t be fooled. These were not officially licensed or endorsed by SEGA in any way and they were released in the USA without consultation.

So, how does the game hold up when running on Nintendo? You will be pleased to hear it is surprisingly good! While it isn’t quite on par with the Master System or Amiga versions, Space Harrier on the Famicom looks great and plays like a dream. The background graphics are nice and the floor scrolling effect is mighty impressive for an 8-bit title. Harri himself controls with ease and the sprites, be them quite small, dart across the screen with fluid animation. Background music is as catchy as ever and despite missing out on digital voice sampling, the sound effects never become irritable, mimicking those found in their arcade big brother well. It’s a shame that this version of the game never made the jump across to the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console and it would accompany the recently released 3D classics version perfectly on the 3DS.

This is a fun version of Space Harrier and a valiant effort considering the limitations of the hardware. We would recommend picking it up and giving it a go, if not just to appreciate some unusual history concerning the two software giants.

Our final version of Space Harrier released in the year 1988 is none other than a port to the Turbo Grafx-16. This time it is SEGA themselves at the reins, with NEC Avenue acting as publisher. The Turbo Grafx-16 (which was also known as the PC Engine) released in Japan, the US and Europe during the late eighties. Joint developed by Hudson Soft and NEC, the console used a card based game format for its titles. A CD add-on was later released and it was succeeded by the PC-FX. Unlike the Turbo Grafx-16 (which sold nearly ten million units worldwide during its nine year lifespan), the PC-FX left a lot to be desired. The system never made it on sale in the west and unfortunately it was discontinued less than four years after initial release. As the American and European name suggests, this system was the first 16-bit hardware on the market, however it still used an 8-bit CPU. The original Japanese system holds the record as being one of the smallest game consoles ever made and despite not selling as well as its competitors hardware, it still has quite the following even today.

Space Harrier - Turbo Grafx-16 / PC Engine [1988]
Harri’s leap onto 16-bit hardware was a great success thanks to both SEGA and NEC.

How does this 16-bit next generation version of Space Harrier hold up? As you would expect with the original developer back in the driving seat, this port was an instant hit. The game runs well on the Turo Grafx-16 and the gameplay is notably faster than all of the versions covered so far. The speed which game runs makes things feel more exciting this time around, although it does create additional challenge if you are used to the slower speeds of previous 8-bit conversions (such as on the Master System.) Digital voice sampling is a little off, with Harri’s voice sounding a little crackly. It’s only a minor issue however, as the rest of the audio is of great quality. If you are playing on the Turbo Grafx-16, we would recommend picking yourself up a Turbo Stick. This joystick peripheral allows for greater accuracy in control as opposed to the standard d-pad set up which comes bundled with the console.

The Turbo Grafx-16 / PC Engine version of Space Harrier sits up there with the Sharp X68000 port in terms of quality. It captures the gameplay found in the arcade version accurately and proved that the next generation of gaming, 16-bit, was a worthwhile upgrade. Especially if you were stuck playing the Sharp X1 conversion. We recommend giving this one a go!

SEGA VS - Space Harrier - 1989 Banner

Space Harrier 2 - SEGA Genesis [1988]
Space Harrier II didn’t quite hit the popularity of the first title, but it was a great launch game for SEGA’s new system.

We are finally out of 1988 and into the next six years of Space Harrier history. During the time period of 1989 to 1995, ports of the arcade classic began to slow down. With the release of Space Harrier II for the SEGA Genesis towards the end of the previous year, the constant need of having the original title on every system under the sun began to wane. Although it didn’t attempt to do anything new, Space Harrier II saw the return of the bizarre art style from the first game and bombarded a re-designed Harri with a whole bunch of zany enemies to fight. Unlike the first title, the sequel was designed for home systems first and foremost, acting as a launch title for the new 16-bit SEGA Genesis. It was a hit and although it didn’t quite reach popularity levels of the original title, it was an ideal launch title for the next-generation system sporting some impressive graphics and high quality sound.

Back to the task at hand. Our next title in the list of Space Harrier ports is a version released on MS DOS in 1989. DOS, standing for Disc Operating System was an early OS included on IBM based PC’s in the eighties and early nineties. DOS was commonly used for over a decade and Microsoft Windows 95, 98 and Millennium are all partially DOS based systems. This particular title for DOS based systems was developed by two people, David R. Mattern and Brian A. Rice. Surprisingly, the game was published by SEGA themselves. We find that surprising since despite looking incredibly similar to the Atari ST version (which this was no doubt based off), the frame-rate is terrible and the audio sounds just like somebody strangling a cat.

Space Harrier - DOS [1989]
Make it stop! The audio to this version is unbearable.

How any sane person could listen to this for more than five seconds without ramming their face against a brick wall is beyond me. It’s immediately apparent from the title screen that audio was neither Mattern or Rice’s strong point, as this sounds like it’s sang by a choir of screaming banshee’s from the deepest darkest regions of hell. We haven’t even gotten to the good part yet- Harri’s scream. Upon death, the player is presented with the usual scream of terror which is achieved by digital voice sampling. The twist with this title is that Harri’s harrowing yell is louder than the torturous music that accompanies it. Putting it into words just doesn’t do it justice, so be sure to take a listen for yourselves.

It is clear that the DOS system just wasn’t able to emulate the speed of the original version very well at all and despite the pretty graphics, it’s incredibly difficult to play. Avoid this one like the plague.

Let’s quickly move on, as surely anything can be better than that previous port. Thankfully we’re in luck as the next title is the first portable version of the game on our list, Space Harrier for the SEGA Game Gear. Based on the Master System version as many Game Gear ports of the time were, this title was released in 1991 and had the behemoth that was SEGA AM2 behind its development.

Space Harrier - Game Gear [1991]
The Game Gear version features re-designed enemies, new audio and even a password system.

Right off the bat you will notice a big difference in the title screens between this version and the one on the Master System. While what is shown is a familiar scene, the creatures around Harri look different. It seems AM2 wished to mix things up a little with this port as despite having mostly the same stages as all of the version spoken about thus far, the enemy designs are very different. It’s a welcome change and it helps make the portable version feel a bit more unique. With hardware considered, the game looks absolutely amazing too. The graphics are on par with SEGA’s home console version and it all runs very smoothly. The music has been notably jazzed up and it’s now even catchier than ever before, with added medleys that will be stuck in your head for countless hours.

A new feature present in this version would be the addition of a password system. After losing all of their lives and dying on a particular stage, players now receive a code that allows them to have a second chance. This is a welcome addition to Space Harrier and it is a nice feature for a portable title too, as the passwords are short and sweet. It’s easy to put the game down, remember the code and return later. The only downside would be the resolution, which was an unfortunate downside to titles running on the Game Gear’s small screen. As the resolution size is much smaller, the player has much less space to work with when avoiding enemy projectiles. This makes gameplay a little more challenging, however it was a hardware issue that was out of the developers hands rather than a problem with the port itself.

While not the definitive port of the arcade version, Space Harrier on the SEGA Game Gear is a decent effort and a nice update on the fantastic Master System title. Well worth a go!

 

We’re sticking with first party ports as next on the agenda is a version for the SEGA 32X. The 32X was a hardware add-on to SEGA’s popular 16-bit machine, the SEGA Genesis. Although it didn’t really take off due to severe lack of compelling software, the mushroom shaped black box slotted into the top of the SEGA Genesis and added some extra power by increasing the systems graphics to 32-bit. It was designed as a low-cost step into the 32-bit era of gaming, priced at only $159 in the US as opposed to the SEGA Saturn’s high cost of $399. Despite this, SEGA treat the Saturn as the true next generation of gaming, which soon led developer and consumer focus to turn away from the 32X. It was considered a commercial failure, which is a shame as the hardware itself had a lot of potential.

Space Harrier - SEGA 32X [1994]
Bask in its glory. The 32X port is a triumph in arcade emulation and was a key title for the affordable SEGA 32X system.

This version of Space Harrier is a near perfect port of the original arcade title. Features such as the graphics, gameplay and the sound are pretty much identical. It’s so good, you would be surprised to learn that despite publishing the game, SEGA aren’t the ones behind its development. Instead, a Japanese studio named Rutubo Games are the ones responsible. Interestingly, Rutubo are made up of ex-staff from our friends over at Dempa Shimbunsha. They really upped their game this time around, putting the 32X’s addition processing power to excellent use and creating a home console port worthy of standing alongside the arcade version.

Rutubo returned once more in 1996 with another pixel perfect port to the SEGA Saturn. This version is more or less identical to the port released two years prior on the SEGA 32X. While the game received a standalone release in Japan, it was brought across to the US market as part of a compilation. Named SEGA Ages: Volume 1 in the west, the pack also contained arcade ports of OutRun and Afterburner II.

Space Harrier - SEGA Saturn [1996]
The SEGA Mission Stick peripheral makes playing the arcade perfect Saturn version even sweeter.

It’s difficult to find a fault with either of these versions, although if we were to recommend one over the other it would have to be the Saturn title. While taking control of Harri using the d-pad certainly isn’t a chore, it’s much more fun to put the 3D control pad that comes bundled with NiGHTS into Dreams to good use. The analogue stick makes darting around Dragonland a much easier affair and it is definitely the best affordable way to experience Space Harrier. If you don’t mind shelling out a little extra cash, a special joystick also came bundled with the Japanese release. The oddly named Mission Stick was included as part of the Gentai Special Edition version of SEGA Ages Vol. 2. While it is definitely our favoured input method for the game, the peripheral is now difficult to find and can fetch around two hundred dollars on eBay.

The SEGA 32X and SEGA Saturn ports of Space Harrier are by far the best on any home console. If you wish to experience the arcade title in your own home, this is the only way to do it.

SEGA VS - Space Harrier - 2003 Banner

The last notable port of Space Harrier released on the Sony Playstation 2 in 2003. Priced at a reasonable 2,500 yen, a full 3D remake of the game hit store shelves in Japan as part of the SEGA Ages 2500 collection. As with the SEGA Ages collection on Saturn, the 2500 series saw various classic SEGA titles re-released for newer systems. The twist this time around is that most of the games were completely remade from the ground up, with 3D models, textured 3D environments, an updated soundtrack and even new stages to beat. There were a whopping thirty-three games released as part of this series, with many different developers becoming involved as new life was breathed into more and more titles. This 3D version of Space Harrier was produced by Japanese studio Tamsoft Corporation, who also worked on a Monaco GP title of the same series. The game eventually saw its way over to Europe and the United States by the end of 2006, released as part of a small pack of SEGA Ages titles under the name SEGA Classics Collection.

17 - PS2
The PS2 version is far from perfect, but it plays great and is well worth the low price of admission.

While the gameplay, music and basic concept remains exactly the same in the Playstation 2 version of Space Harrier, a lot of the charm has been lost. Dragonland is no longer the colourful wonderland it once was and instead it now looks rather dull and boring. Sound effects are different too and they become quite irritating. Plasma cannon bullet noises soon become grating on the ears and you’ll be turning them down to zero before you have even beaten the first boss.

Thankfully, there is a way to partially fix things. It’s possible to disable the games new updated look by turning off fractual mode in the main menu. While it still leaves a lot to be desired, this now sees the return of the colourful checkerboard floor effect of the arcade version. While it’s certainly not as pretty as it could be, things are now much easier on the eye than the brown and grey mess of the updated visuals.

As much as we hate to admit it, the cheesy disco-inspired soundtrack is a tonne of fun. It’s difficult not to tap your feet along to this jazzed up version of the Space Harrier theme and it becomes horrendously addictive after only a short while. We cannot deny that the gameplay is spot on, either. This new updated version plays exactly like the original and it’s even nicer to control using the Dualshock 2’s analogue sticks. All of the arcade stages are present with a brand new boss fight also hidden at the end of the game. It’ll take expert skill and patience to unlock him however, which makes a nice extra feature for veterans of the series.

While it’s not the best version of Space Harrier, the PS2 remake is a nice effort and it plays just as well as the original. If you plan on checking it out, remember to give it a go with the fractual mode disabled, as to hide the ugly new visuals.

 

SEGA VS - Space Harrier - Conclusion

We could go on and on, but I think it’s only right to give Harri a break and bring our journey to an end. I think everyone can agree that we have three clear winners, but many of the ports discussed are unique in their own way, be that a good or a bad thing. Versions on the Sharp X6000, SEGA 32X and SEGA Saturn are by far the closest ports to the original version and all do a brilliant job in emulating the excitement of the arcade. The Amiga version still looks lovely and it was the closest anyone living in the US during the nineteen-eighties was going to get to playing the arcade title in their living room. The Game Gear port, despite the small screen resolution is perfect for picking up and playing on the move while the Famicom version is a neat piece of SEGA history that even the most hardcore SEGA nerd should experience.

Space Harrier has popped up in so many other titles, including Shenmue on the Dreamcast and even SEGA Superstars Tennis on the 360, PS3 and Wii. We hope to see more of Harri in the future, whether he be a cameo in new titles or starring in a brand new game of his own.

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3D Space Harrier - 3DS Classics [2013]
The 3D effect works extremely well and the amount of in-game options available to the player are incredible.

If you are still craving your Space Harrier fix even after looking back at all of the ports mentioned in this article, you can now pick up a 3D version of the arcade original on the Nintendo 3DS. Part of SEGA’s 3D classics line up, developer M2 have crafted an incredible port that features all of the levels found in the original version along with a tonne of new options and features. Touch screen control, a level select mode and several graphical options are all available, allowing each player to tweak the game to their liking. There is even a mode that emulates the feeling of playing in one of SEGA’s moving arcade cabinets, with authentic sound effects to boot!

It’s clear a lot of love and attention has gone into this port and we would go as far to say that, other than the arcade original, it is the definitive version of Space Harrier. If you fancy reading a little more on this version of the game, we suggest giving this recent interview with the men behind it a read. It talks about the games features in great detail, discusses the challenges presented to the team when creating the game and also covers some of the other ports handled by M2 in the past.

Lee Sparkes

Lee is a huge retro SEGA nerd and currently resides in bonnie Scotland. Starting out with a SEGA Master System, some of his favourite SEGA titles include Monster World IV, NiGHTS Into Dreams, OutRun 2, and of course, Sonic the Hedgehog. When he's not playing old SEGA games, he's probably sat watching Lupin III.

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