Space Harrier
Master System
It's a rare thing these days, but when arcades were at their height and new games were being produced at a steady rate (damn I feel old), every now and then a new machine would appear which was so unlike anything else and so technologically far ahead of the competition, it would be near impossible to even get a chance to play the damn thing as crowds of gawping gamers would gather round to play or simply marvel at whatever new piece of technology had been placed at the altar of the videogame faithful.

I first saw Space Harrier at an exhibition of some sort (computer/ consumer electronics?) and the effect was the same. People had given up touring the exhibition to stand and gaze at Sega's new marvel. The hydraulic cabinet seemed huge and was chucking some kid about as he wrestled with the similarly oversized joystick. The most striking aspect of the game however, was its graphics. Visually, this game was streets ahead of anything else - state-of the-art sprite-scaling wowed onlookers and few would disagree that Space Harrier's glorious psuedo-3D thrill ride was an exhilarating one.

After a while however, opinion tended to divide. Some absolutely adored the speed and excitement on offer while others deplored its simple gameplay and cited lack of depth as a turn-off. This didn't prevent the game from being a worldwide smash however, and of course, where there's a hit arcade game, you can bet your bottom dollar a slew of software houses will be clamouring for licences to port the game onto various home systems and electrical appliances. OK, perhaps not electrical appliances. Anyway, soon enough, ports of Space Harrier began to appear on various home computer formats with varying degrees of success. Given the relative power of the coin-op's hardware, most of these conversions were a little ambitious to say the least and were subsequently ridiculed by the gaming press but were still snapped up in large quantities by eager fans.

The Master System conversion was handled by Sega themselves, and given the difference in spec between Sega's 8-bit wonder and their most highly-advanced coin-op to date, this conversion project was just as tall an order as any.

But what of the game itself? Well, the Space Harrier of the title is a flying boy (whose amazing levitational skills are never explained), placed under the control of the player and carrying a ludicrously oversized gun. The action is viewed from behind the boy as he runs/flies across a variety of alien landscapes, avoiding bits of scenery and blasting all and sundry into tiny pieces supposedly in the name of saving the Land of Dragons. There are 18 levels to conquer and each features an end-of-level boss (surprise surprise). To break the game up a little, there are also two bonus levels - five and twelve - in which Mr Harrier gets to ride on the back of a big, friendly dragon destroying as many ground objects as possible for bonus points (and the sheer hell of it I guess).

Jimmy's parents warned him about mixing with the
wrong crowd ...

'scuse me guv, got 10p for a cuppa tea?'

Oh I see, flying wonder boy not good enough, eh? You
want to play as a jet? You'd better go here then ...

'ere mate, d'you know the way to 'ounslow bus garage?'

Converting Space Harrier to any home format was always going to be problematic. As a coin-op, Space Harrier relies heavily on its impressive visuals, audio and hydraulics to provide most of its thrills and in my opinion, the game that lies beneath is actually rather bland. In porting it to the Master System, most of its aesthetic appeal has been lost, the shallow structure of the gameplay is exposed and its weaknesses magnified. Technically, I think Sega have produced about as close a conversion as could possibly be expected on the Master System but the game is not without its problems. The graphics are large and fairly fast-moving but are quite jerky, often making it difficult to tell in which direction obstacles are headed. Avoiding enemies and projectiles is something of a hit-and-miss affair at times, as distance is often difficult to judge accurately. The catchy musical scores from the original have survived the conversion albeit in a slightly diluted form and it's a definite plus that the speech is in there too. Overall, despite its problems, Space Harrier still manages to be a fairly entertaining slice of action, but unless you're a big fan of the original you may just find the gameplay a little too weak.

Graphics: 77%

Sound: 81%

Gameplay: 61%

Overall: 64%
Large, colourful sprites, but let down by jerky, sometimes spasmodic movement. Catchy as ever, if a little lacking in 'oomph'. Fairly decent speech too. Lacking even in its arcade form, this incarnation doesn't have the aesthetic polish to cover up its gameplay flaws. For Space Harrier die-hards, this is about as good as it could be on the Master System - a good conversion by Sega given the limitations of its host machine.
R E C O M M E N D E D   A L T E R N A T I V E S

O T H E R   F O R M A T S
Space Harrier II (Megadrive)

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