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Space Harrier II (Genesis) artwork

Space Harrier II (Genesis) review

"Space Harrier is not a game. Space Harrier is an idea. I can envision a programmer at Sega fiddling around with some code during his spare time and creating a functional 3D checkerboard field. Cue the proverbial light bulb. "

Space Harrier is not a game. Space Harrier is an idea. I can envision a programmer at Sega fiddling around with some code during his spare time and creating a functional 3D checkerboard field. Cue the proverbial light bulb.

The game really wouldn't be the same without the checkerboard. Sega as well must have realized this; throughout Space Harrier, the Master System-exclusive Space Harrier 3D, and Space Harrier II on the Genesis, there isn't a single deviation from this trademark landscape; only the colors of the checkerboard change. Harrier, our blond-haired, jumpsuit-toting hero, perpetually runs toward the horizon, and inexplicably has the ability to fly without any sort of propulsion system. He is also armed with a rather large energy blaster, which can be fired in one direction and one direction only--forward. He travels through some truly bizarre landscapes; seas of Roman columns out in the middle of nowhere are only the beginning of the strange sights seen in the Space Harrier series. His foes, as well, would be a surrealist's wet dream; one-eyed woolly mammoths, Chinese dragons, laser-spewing toads...and the list goes on.

This is Space Harrier the idea, and it is a great one; I have no doubt that Space Harrier the game would not be tolerable if it tried to be anything but a psychadelic acid trip. But the whole "game" part of Space Harrier is where everything starts to fall apart.

Harrier's options in any of the Space Harrier games are limited to two actions: dodging and shooting. There are no powerups to collect. You cannot charge up your gun for a stronger attack. There is no combo system. There is no world map. You shoot your enemies with the one projectile attack available to you, and dodge any attacks sent toward you (which are limited to fireballs and lasers, fuctionally identical to each other.) It is an incredibly thin experience.

Space Harrier II (which, oddly enough, is the canonical third game in the series--it even references Space Harrier 3D during the ending) doesn't even try to address the flaws of its predecessors. In fact, the only difference between Space Harrier II and the first two games is that there is now a boss battle at the end of every stage.

And those bosses definitely aren't anything to get excited about. They all follow basic patterns and most of them don't take much damage to defeat. One boss, for instance, resembles a 20-sided die; all you have to do to kill it is dodge two of its attacks and then shoot its exposed weak spot with a single blast. Boss explodes. The whole process takes about ten seconds. Onto next stage, of which Space Harrier II has thirteen, spread out over the course of 45 minutes or so.

For the first twelve stages, the game really does feel exactly the same as the original Space Harrier. Some levels are set at night; others flash different colors (those prone to seizures, beware); still others have a checkerboard ceiling in addition to the floor, giving these areas a rather claustrophobic feel. But the floor remains a constant fixture, and the highly similar design of each level (you dodge the same attacks from every enemy, despite their differing sprites) gets quite tiresome by the time you reach the tedious final stage, which forces you to fight all twelve bosses all over again, followed by a battle with Harrier's evil twin (which isn't anything special.) After the fourth and eighth stages, Harrier hops onto the back of a hoverboard (why he needs this is unclear; he can fly just fine without it) and becomes an invincible kamikaze whose goal is to kill as many enemies as possible, the reward being some measly bonus points.

Space Harrier II's gameplay isn't all bad; in fact, "bad" really isn't the right word to describe it. Just...underdeveloped. It does provide some intense moments; since every projectile fired by an enemy is aimed directly at Harrier, you constantly have to move to stay alive. Harrier's grating, overly-dramatic death scream also gives one good incentive not to die. The checkerboard scrolling also gives the game a great sense of speed, and the effect looks cool to this day--which is particularly surprising, given that Space Harrier II was a Genesis launch game (even in Japan.) Unfortunately, all of this is undermined somewhat by Space Harrier's II soundtrack, which sounds far too laid-back for a game that moves so quickly.

Only so much can be said about a game with one type of weapon, one type of enemy attack, and one type of environment. Space Harrier II is sound as a concept. But being a complete rehash of the first game (which began to run thin well before its end), Space Harrier II simply does not change up the formula enough to keep things interesting. Check it out if you haven't played the original, if only for the 3D scaling effect on the checkerboard. Otherwise, forget about it and play a game with some actual depth.

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Community review by phediuk (April 14, 2006)

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