In an era that only saw vertical and horizontal shooters, Space Harrier dared to be a little different. This Sega shooter is a fully 3D experience that was released at a time when everybody else was trying to perfect 2D gaming. Due to its age it's easy to see some of the limitations, but it's hard to deny that the original Space Harrier was a novel idea that is a lot more fun than you might expect. It also managed to be a pretty good console game, especially if you were a TurboGrafx-16 owner back in the late 80s.
Space Harrier doesn't worry itself with a complex story; all you need to know is that you're a man who appears to be able to fly all about the screen shooting at enemies with his giant cannon. The game is remarkably similar to a lot of 3D shooters, including Nintendo's popular StarFox series. Through 18 different levels you will be shooting down and dodging as many bad guys as you can, something that really hasn't changed much in the twenty years since this game debuted. The good news is that it's still as much fun today as it was then, even if the shallow gameplay and dated graphics haven't held up quite as well as you would have hoped.
Even though you aren't controlling an airplane or spaceship, Space Harrier manages to feel a lot like most 3D shooters you've seen. The idea here is to mash the fire button as fast as you can while dodging pillars, rocks and weird alien-type creatures. At the end of each level you'll have to deal with a boss battle, and if you make it far enough in the game you will get transported to a bonus stage where you can rack up a lot of points (and maybe even earn a bonus life).
The game is surprisingly fast, your character flies along at a blistering speed that can sometimes make killing enemies a little difficult. But it also means that you will have to be on your toes if you're going to make it through all 18 levels. The levels themselves are all similar, even though they have different color schemes and different background graphics. You will also find that there are certain enemies that are only in a few levels, which gives you a nice variety of bad guys to go up against.
Since the TurboGrafx-16 didn't have scaling built into the hardware the 3D isn't nearly as smooth as you might like. At first this can be a bit jarring, especially when you're trying to dodge pillars and rocks that you can't destroy with your cannon. But it won't take too long before your eyes adjust and you're flying through the levels like a pro.
While the game is difficult, it's not so hard that you won't want to come back and play it after you've lost all of your lives. Since the game is a port of an arcade game you shouldn't expect a whole lot of depth, about the only extra mode you have is how you want to control your character (either inverted or regular pitch). Still, even without a lot of extra content this game is easy to get into and come back to time and time again.
Fans of 3D shooters won't be blown away by the graphics and presentation, but given a few plays it's easy to see why Space Harrier was the success it was. This is a solid 3D action game that was released at a time when 2D shooters were all the rage. As a TurboGrafx-16 port this is a solid game, if you're the type of person that wants a fun diversion from the classic 2D shooters of the era then Space Harrier may be right up your alley.