I remember walking into the local arcade sometime during the late 80’s and noticed a massive crowd surrounding a new machine. After I cashed in a few bucks for tokens and fought my way through the bodies I was able to see the screen, and like everyone else in the arcade I was completely blown away. Completely.
It was the first game I can remember that took advantage of the pseudo-3D perspective and instead of simply using it as a gimmick it created a highly playable, immersive experience. Space Harrier is a super fast third-person shooter that features cool digitized vocal effects, detailed sprites, unique boss battles and memorable music.
The success it had in arcades was carried over into various console ports across multiple generations. From the NES to the 32X to the Playstation, outside of it’s own ports and sequels, the Space Harrier influence was apparent. The foundation for 3D third-person shooters to follow, you wouldn’t have played Star Fox on the SNES or Descent on the PC without Space Harrier.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I know that it was the first arcade games to use 16-bit graphics and Sega’s “Super Scaler” technology that allowed pseudo-3D sprite-scaling at high frame rates, with the ability to scale as many as 32,000 sprites and fill a moving landscape with them, along with over 32,000 colors displayed simultaneously on the screen.
The game still holds up well even after all of the CGI and polygons and motion capture technology and that can be attributed to the gameplay. You run along or fly above the alien terrains of the Fantasy Zone at hyper-fast speeds while blasting bad guys with a massive cannon across 18 levels. It’s difficult without feeling cheap and the boss battles are unique and interesting enough to counter some of the bad guy sprite repetition. No power-ups but they do break up the action with a bonus stage that has you riding a fuzzy Neverending Story luckdragon looking thing that crashes into trees for bonus points. It’s random but it fits the game.
If you happen to come across it in the dusty back corners of an arcade or bowling alley then experience the original, if not, you can still check out various emulated versions of it or current-gen ports found on collections. You’re welcome.