Space Harrier - Welcome to the Fantasy Zone

One of the highlights, well quite possibly the only one, of being raised at the seaside in the UK is/was the glorious amount of arcade games you had at your disposal. I would visit the arcades most evenings after school, just to see the latest games which had arrived and watch the pros in action. If you asked a kid during the late 80s early 90s what their first video arcade game was then they would most likely list classics such as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Kung-fu or Pac Man. While not completely out of left-field the very first game I played at the arcade was Sega's shoot-em-up, Space Harrier.

The rolling seat sit down cab, 80s tastic!

Attracted by the huge, colorful cabinet with the rolling seat I have vague memories of suffering at the hands of the game's excruciating difficulty level and frantic gameplay. Space Harrier requires lightning reflexes! This was a problem for me as Space Harrier has you dodging obstacles like spaceships, trees, rocks and even the enemies themselves, while trying to shoot everything that moved, when as a child I could barely concentrate on putting one front of the other. It felt to me like rubbing your stomach while patting your head it was so overwhelming. The game rarely gives you a second to breathe and I don’t think I made it off of the first level. Defiant though, I would come back in spades with my 20p pieces, although it would take a while before I would ever be able to get passed the first boss.

It's quite a rarity these days, fetching 100+ pounds
The compilation features some stunning arcade titles

Space Harrier made its way onto the Dreamcast in the form of a sub game in the arcades in Shenmue I and II, and also as part of the Yu Suzuki Game Works Vol. 1. Both versions are identical and arcade perfect (although mysteriously lacking a save score feature?). They also feature analogue controls using the stick on the Dreamcast controller. Playing this game again recently reminded me of just how challenging, yet addictive Space Harrier is. The concept is so simple (shoot everything that moves) and the controls, visuals and music are shooting perfection. You also have to love that amazing title screen featuring a woolly mammoth cyclops, a giant robot and a guy with a jet pack on his shoulders. Try as I might though, I still cannot beat Space Harrier even now!

There are simply not enough cyclops mammoths in modern games!

In 2000, Sega decided to resurrect the Space Harrier series with a completely new arcade game, Planet Harriers. Developed by Amusement Vision, the game was not produced by the legendary Yu Suzuki who developed the first game, but by Toshihiro Nagoshi who went on to produce games such as Super Monkey Ball, F-Zero GX and the legendary Yakuza series. Unfortunately, Planet Harriers came out during the down-scaling of arcades in Japan so the game never got the attention it deserved and was quite hard to find, although I did get a chance to play the game at the Sega arcade in Shibuya back in 2002. Running off of Sega’s Hikaru board, the successor to the Dreamcast based Naomi, Planet Harriers looked absolutely stunning at the time with some gorgeous 3D graphical effects. Strangely, I recall that the gameplay was more reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon than a typical Space Harrier game but was still a real blast (pun totally intended) to play.

Planet Harriers would have been a fine swansong for the DC

Along with other Hikaru based games such as, Star Wars Racer Arcade and Brave Firefighters, there were rumors at the time of a Dreamcast port for Planet Harriers as the Hikaru board was essentially a Naomi with a slightly faster main processor and a little more memory. There was even a video of the game given out on a GD-Rom with the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine. In the end though, it seemed that Sega had some trouble in getting the game to port over to the Dreamcast, probably due to the graphical requirements of the game, and with the demise of the system in Japan and Sega’s financial situation, the project was sadly canned.