"The thing Harrier's got going for it (that even some newer titles lack) is an incredible sense of speed, which picks up even more by the 21st level. The completely redesigned scenery — trees, stone columns, icebergs, and sun-bleached bones — scrolls by at dangerous speeds, and enemies scream by so quickly that you only have a second or two to shoot before they're gone."
Get busy! Dragonland is screaming!
Before Panzer Dragoon, there was Space Harrier. Not wasting time on made-up languages or dramatic moral messages, Yu Suzuki's arcade shooter threw action, action, and even some action at dragon blasting nerds. Sega upgraded this classic with superior 3D audiovisuals just in time to inject some much-needed mirthful '80's style into my pretentiously philosophical collection. And to that, I say BOOYAH.
When you start the game up, the super-heroic Harrier runs into the grassy plains of Moot sporting a bright red goggled helmet and one FREAKIN' HUGE laser cannon. A mysterious but overjoyed disembodied voice cries out, Welcome to the Fantasy Zone! Get ready!
If Sega's 3D Ages collection has reminded me of one thing, it's that every other '80's Sega game somehow referenced Fantasy Zone. If the collection's reminded me of a second thing, it's that a lot of these games became classics for good reason. Space Harrier's no longer as unique as it once was, but as Star Fox and Rez have shown, the 3D "into the screen" shooter is still a viable genre. The thing Harrier's got going for it (that even some newer titles lack) is an incredible sense of speed, which picks up even more by the 21st level. The completely redesigned scenery — trees, stone columns, icebergs, and sun-bleached bones — scrolls by at dangerous speeds, and enemies scream by so quickly that you only have a second or two to shoot before they're gone.
Even though it's so exciting that it doesn't need to rely on atmosphere, Space Harrier's got plenty of creative energy to back up the action. How many games let you blow up war mammoths? Not very many! In each cheesily-named level (I like Peetaan best) the announcer prods you on to continue as the same awesome techno musical track plays. Sure, re-using one song over and over sounds like a bad thing, but it's a long song and each level starts at a different point in the arrangement, so it'll be a while before you even catch on to Sega's dirty little secret.
Sega's given the Harrier more than dorky goggles and new tunes. The biggest change from the original is the addition of the flash bomb, which burns EVERYTHING on the screen. It's great to escape a tight spot when you're trying to weave through rows of stone pillars while jetplanes spray pulsating fire across your path. It also makes some of the bosses game-breakingly easy, so I recommend restraint in your indiscriminate burning. The intrepid Harrier's also gained a lock-on laser, similar to Panzer Dragoon, but a lot less useful because everything scrolls by so quickly. Finally, two new 3D tunnel levels have been added, taking advantage of the PS2's better-than-1985-arcade hardware. Basically, these two new levels amount to a tight weave-and-shoot through what resembles a worm-burrowed tunnel — they don't play too differently from the rest, but they look different enough to feel special. Cool, Harrier!
Although revamped with new weapons and levels, this remake keeps enough nostalgic remnants to bring back those rosy arcade memories. From the familiar title screen with its one-eyed mammoth and raging war-mech to the manly dying "AUGGGHHHHH", it's clear the re-developers kept the original game in mind. There's even a "fractal OFF" mode that replaces the cool surface scenery with the original version's checkered grid. It's like I'm living in 1985 all over again, baby — and it's just as fun as it ever was, with super smooth analog control and screen-covering firepower.
I love a metaphysical talking arm cinematic just as much as the next nerd, but sometimes it's enough for a game just to be fun. That's where Space Harrier excels, that's where Space Harrier has always excelled, and the overly exuberant narrator never lets you forget it. You got an attitude! Harrier, release yourself now!
Consider me released.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 14, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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