What can you say about the original Space Harrier? Brilliant..innovative…fun. Essentially the game took Space Invaders, put it in first person perspective, and threw everything at you. With a little Centipede thrown in for good measure. Oh, and did I mention you have a jet pack strapped to your back, so that you are constantly moving forward?
Originally released to the arcade in 1985 by Sega, the game was the creation of Yu Suzuki, who is responsible for many popular Sega games, like Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter.
The arcade cabinet was one of the first to incorporate mechanical feedback to mirror the action in the game. You would sit and actually move with the analog controller. Another first in arcades. Perhaps the first.
I have a very fond memory of the first time I played in an arcade. It was at King’s Island, an amusement park close to where I lived. I begged my dad to let me play, and I from the moment I sat down, I was in hooked. As soon as your put in your tokens and pressed start, a digitized voice said “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone….Get Ready” and BAM…you were flying.
Space Harrier also was one of the first games to feature serious level progression. Each level was a different world…with different enemies and bosses. Sure they wee all similar and simple palette swaps, but it was enough to make you keep going. For every one million points you got an extra life. Or, you kept plugging quarters/tokens in. This game also existed in the era of the High Score. Like many games of the time, it had a leader board and you put your initials in when you achieved a ranking on it. There was no save. If you ran out of lives, you started over. This concept is foreign to many today.
It is a relentless, furious game that offers you no short cuts. This was a game that tested your reflexes and memory. Some obstacles could be shot out of your way, others could not. And if you hit one of those, it was lights out. Game over, man. The only advantage was that the enemies and obstacles came in patterned waves….so as long as you knew where and what to expect, you could make it. Sorta.
For Christmas 1986, I begged my mom and dad for this. Only because one of the launch games was Space Harrier. Since the only arcade around me that had it was at Kings Island, I didnt get enough of it and I wanted more. The only catch was the gift was also for my sister…so I had to share. That sucked.
Since then, Space Harrier has had not so good sequels, and been released on just about every platform known to man. But it started in the arcade for me, and it remains one of my favorite games of all time. And one of the greatest.