Space Harrier

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Space Harrier
SpaceHarrier arcadeflyer.png
European arcade flyer
Developer(s) Sega AM2
Sega AM4
Elite Systems
Rutubo Games
  • JP: Dempa
  • JP: Micomsoft
Designer(s) Yu Suzuki
Composer(s) Hiroshi Kawaguchi
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Rail shooter, third-person shooter
Mode(s) Single player
Cabinet Standard and sit-down
Arcade system Sega Space Harrier Hardware[3]
CPU 2x 68000 (@ 10 MHz)
Sound CPU: Z80 (@ 4 MHz)
Sound YM2203 (@ 4 MHz)
Sega PCM (@ 31.25 kHz)
Display Raster, standard resolution,
horizontal orientation,
6144 out of 98,304 colors

Space Harrier (Japanese: スペースハリアー Hepburn: Supēsu Hariā?) is a 1985 third-person rail shooter video game, designed by Yu Suzuki and developed by Sega AM2. Produced for arcades, the title has been ported to over twenty different home computer and gaming platforms.[4] Two home-system sequels followed in Space Harrier 3-D (1988) and Space Harrier II (1988), as well as an arcade spinoff, Planet Harriers, in 2000. A polygon-based remake of the original game was released by Sega for the PlayStation 2 as part of their Sega Ages series in 2003. Praised today for its graphics, music, and gameplay, Space Harrier is often considered the first successful entry in both the third-person and rail shooter genres,[5][6] and is ranked among Suzuki's best works.[7][8] PlatinumGames director Hideki Kamiya has cited it as an inspiration for his entering the video game industry.[9]


Arcade gameplay of Space Harrier

Space Harrier is set in the "Fantasy Zone", a surreal world composed of brightly-colored landscapes adorned with checkerboard-styled grounds. The enemies are unique, featuring prehistoric animals, Chinese dragons, flying robots, and alien pods. The eponymous player character, simply named Harrier, is continuously propelled through the levels as players dodge enemy fire while shooting back with fireballs via an underarm cannon that doubles as a jetpack-like device, enabling the character to fly. The character graphics are sprite-based, though the level backgrounds are pseudo-3D.[10] The game features digitized voice samples; at the start of gameplay, players are greeted with the spoken line, "Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. Get ready!" in addition to "You're doing great!" with the successful completion of a stage.[4]

The game has a total of eighteen stages, the first seventeen averaging less than two minutes in length and fifteen of them containing a boss at the end that must be destroyed in order to progress to the next stage; two other levels—the fifth and the twelfth—are bonus stages in which Harrier boards a friendly cat-like dragon named Uriah[4][note 1] whom players maneuver and smash through landscape obstacles in order to collect bonus points. The eighteenth and final level is a boss rush containing seven past bosses encountered up to that point. Space Harrier has no storyline, and after completion, "The End" is displayed onscreen before the game reverts back to attract mode.


[AM2's] market research department told me not to make the game. I asked them why [3D shooters] didn't succeed and they told me it was because the target is too small. Based on that, my conclusion was that I basically had to make sure the player could hit the target. So, I made a homing system that guaranteed that the target could be hit. When the target was close, it would always hit, but when the target was in the distance, the player would miss. So the result of whether the player would hit the target or not was determined the second the player took the shot.

Yu Suzuki, 2010[14]

Described by Sega as a taikan ("body sensation") arcade game,[15] Space Harrier was one of the earliest third-person shooters.[16] Preceded by Sega's own 1982 release Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, it would inspire later 3D shooters such as Nintendo's The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner[17] and Star Fox.[4] The game was first conceived by another AM2 designer, named Ida,[14] who wrote a 100-page document proposing the idea of a three-dimensional shooter that contained the word "Harrier" in the title.[14] The game would feature a player-controlled fighter jet that shot missiles into realistic foregrounds, a concept that was soon rejected due to the extensive work required to project the aircraft realistically from varying angles as it moved onscreen,[14] coupled with arcade machines' memory limitations.[18] Suzuki therefore simplified the title character: "Drawing a human is much easier, and it's not necessary to make him fully realistic, and it doesn't require much free space."[18] The style of the game was consequently changed to a fantasy setting, with Suzuki rewriting the entire original proposal while keeping only the "Harrier" name. "[It] became a sci-fi game because we had a person flying on the screen."[14] His inspirations for the game's new design were the 1984 film The Neverending Story, the 1982 anime series Space Cobra, and the work of artist Roger Dean.[18] He included a nod to the original designer in the finished product with an enemy character called Ida, a large moai-like floating stone head, because the designer "had a really big head."[14]

The game was one of the first arcade releases to use 16-bit graphics and Z-buffering ("Super Scaler") technology[19] that allowed pseudo-3D sprite-scaling at high frame rates,[10] with the ability to scale as many as 32,000 sprites and fill a moving landscape with them[20] along with displaying 6144 colors onscreen out of a 98,304-color palette. Running on the Sega Space Harrier arcade system board[21] previously used in Sega AM2's 1985 debut, Hang-On, the pseudo-3D sprite/tile scaling in the game was handled in a similar manner to textures in later texture-mapped polygonal 3D games of the 1990s.[22] Suzuki explained in 2010 that his designs "were always 3D from the beginning. All the calculations in the system were 3D, even from Hang-On. I calculated the position, scale, and zoom rate in 3D and converted it backwards to 2D. So I was always thinking in 3D."[23] Space Harrier utilized an analog flight stick as its controller, with the ability to register movement in any direction as well as measure the degree of push that accelerated the player character onscreen at varying speeds, depending on how far the stick was pushed in a certain direction.[7]

Home conversions[edit]

Space Harrier has been ported to numerous home computer systems and consoles for over a quarter of a century. The first was in 1986 for the Sega Master System (Mark III in Japan), developed by Sega AM R&D 4.[8] The first two-megabit cartridge produced for the console,[24] the game was given a plot and correlating ending of Harrier liberating the "Land of the Dragons" from evil forces.[11] All eighteen stages were present but the backdrops therein were omitted, leaving just a monochromatic horizon and the checkerboard floors. An exclusive final boss was included in a powerful twin-bodied fire dragon named Haya Oh, who was named after then-Sega president Hayao Nakayama.[4] The 1991 Game Gear port featured redesigned enemies and only twelve stages, while a near-duplicate of the arcade version arrived the following year for the 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis. Both ports featured packaging art by Marc Ericksen.[25]

A polygon-based remake of Space Harrier was part of the Japanese Sega Ages classic-game collection (Sega Classics Collection in North America and Europe) developed by M2 and released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2.[26] Sega additionally began rereleasing past ports of the game in the 2000s, with some developed for consoles from longtime rival Nintendo. The original Space Harrier was packaged with three of Yu Suzuki's other works, After Burner, Out Run, and Super Hang-On, for the 2003 Game Boy Advance release Sega Arcade Gallery. The Space Harrier Complete Collection, developed by M2 for the PlayStation 2, followed in October 2005 and was composed of all the series' official releases "to go with the various generations of our customers," according to Sega CS3 producer Yosuke Okunari.[27] Bonus content included an arcade promotional-material gallery and a record-and-replay feature,[28] and the Game Gear port is hidden therein as an Easter egg.[26]

In 2013, M2, in collaboration with Sega CS3, ported the game to the handheld Nintendo 3DS console, complete with stereoscopic 3D and widescreen graphics,[29][30] a process that took eighteen months.[31] Okunari described the 3D-conversion process as "almost impossible. When you take a character sprite that was originally in 2D and bring it into a 3D viewpoint, you have to build the graphic from scratch."[32] During development, M2 president Naoki Horii sought opinions from staff members regarding the gameplay of the arcade original. "They’d say it was hard to tell whether objects were right in front of their character or not. Once we had the game in 3D, the same people came back and said, 'OK, now I get it! I can play it now!'"[32]

Other appearances[edit]

Space Harrier has shared an unofficial connection with another Sega shooter franchise, Fantasy Zone, which debuted in Japanese arcades in March 1986.[33] Both games are believed to be set in the same universe;[34] Space Harrier's opening line of dialogue at the start of gameplay ("Welcome to the Fantasy Zone") has been cited as a reason, but this was dispelled by AM2 developer and director Yoji Ishii in a 2014 interview.[15] A 1989 port of Fantasy Zone for the Japan-exclusive Sharp X68000 contained a hidden stage called "Dragon Land" that featured Space Harrier enemy characters and was accessible only by following a specific set of instructions.[35] In 1991, NEC Avenue developed Space Fantasy Zone for the CD-ROM, featuring Fantasy Zone's main character Opa-Opa navigating nine levels of combined gameplay elements and enemies from both franchises. Despite a preview in Electronic Gaming Monthly #29 (December 1991)[36] and advertising designed by artist Satoshi Urushihara,[35] Space Fantasy Zone was never released due to a legal dispute with Sega over NEC's unauthorized use of the Fantasy Zone property,[37] but a playable beta version of the game was leaked onto the Internet and bootleg copies were subsequently produced.[35] Opa-Opa makes a brief unplayable appearance in Planet Harriers, while one of three endings in the 2007 PlayStation 2 release Fantasy Zone II DX has Harrier and Uriah attempting to eliminate a turned-evil Opa-Opa bent on destroying the game's eponymous Fantasy Zone.[38]

Sega began paying tribute to the series in several 2000s releases covering many genres. The arcade version of Space Harrier was included in the 1999 Dreamcast action-adventure title Shenmue as a minigame, and the 2001 sequel Shenmue II contained a full port of the game therein, while Sega Superstars Tennis and the 2010 action-adventure game Bayonetta featured Space Harrier-inspired minigames.[39][40] The title is available as an unlockable game in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009), for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but with differences in sound emulations.[41] In the 2012 title Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a remixed version of the Space Harrier main theme played during the "Race of Ages" stage, where a holographic statue of Harrier and a flying dragon appeared in the background.[35] Shenmue character Ryo Hazuki piloted a flying Space Harrier sit-down arcade cabinet during airborne levels.[42]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 77.25% (3DS)[44]
Metacritic 70 (3DS)[43]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 4.5/5 (32X)[45]
2.5/5 (PC)[46]
4.5/5 (SMS)[47]
3/5 (TG16)[48]
3/5 (Wii)[49]
CVG 35/40 (PC)[51]
78% (SMS)[52]
89% (TG16)[53]
82% (Amiga)[54]
Crash 77% (PC)[50]
Famitsu 90% (3DS)[55]
GamePro 4/5 (32X)[56]
GameSpy 9/10 (SMS)[57]
IGN 4.5/10 (Wii)[58]
Sinclair User 5/5 (PC)[59]
Your Sinclair 9/10 (PC)[60]

Space Harrier was positively received upon its initial arcade and home releases. It tied at runner-up with the Commodore 64 release Uridium for Game of the Year honors at the 1986 Golden Joystick Awards. Ed Semrad of The Milwaukee Journal gave the Master System port a 9/10 rating,[61] and Computer Gaming World deemed it "the best arcade shoot-'em-up of the year ... as exciting a game as this reviewer has ever played".[62] Phil Campbell of The Sydney Morning Herald praised the 1989 Amiga conversion as "absorbing" and "a faithful copy of the original."[63] Computer and Video Games called the port "an entirely unpretentious computer game full of weird and wacky nasties."[54] Paul Mellerick of Sega Force wrote that the Game Gear version was "amazingly close to the original ... the scrolling's the speediest and smoothest ever seen."[64] GamePro commented that the 32X version had "straightforward controls", graphics closest to the arcade version, and was "a nice trip down memory lane",[56] while AllGame enthused, "No fan of the game who owns a 32X should be without it. It's one of the few must-haves on the system."[45] However, Lucas Thomas of IGN rated the 2008 Wii port a 4.5 score out of 10, citing its "poor visuals and poor control" and "dulled" color palette,[58] and Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb, in his review of Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, criticized the Space Harrier emulation's "numerous audio issues that make it sound completely different from the way the original game sounds."[41]

Rich Stanton of Eurogamer said in 2013, "The speed at which Space Harrier moves has rarely been matched. It's not an easy thing to design a game around. Many other games have fast parts, or certain mechanics tied to speed - and it's interesting to note how many take control away at this point. Every time I play Space Harrier ... the speed blows me away one more time. It is a monster."[65] GameSetWatch commented, "It's easy to see why the game is so well-loved to this day, with its blinding speed and classic tunes."[66] Eric Twice of Snackbar Games said in 2013, "It’s easy to just see it as just a game in which you press the button and things die, but [Yu] Suzuki is a very conscious designer. He has a very specific vision behind each of his games, and nothing in them is ever left to chance."[67] Eric Francisco of Inverse said of the game's visuals, "Imagine an acid trip through an ‘80s anime, a Robert Jordan novel, and early Silicon Valley binge coding sessions,"[5] and Ron Duwell of TechnoBuffalo noted its "dizzying speeds that could give today’s Gears of War spoiled rugrats nausea for a week."[68] Space Harrier placed 50th in GamesRadar's 2014 ranking of the top 50 all-time best Game Gear titles,[69] and the site ranked the arcade original's bonus stage among the "25 best bonus levels of all time" in 2014, likening it to players piloting The Neverending Story's dragon character Falkor.[70] Kotaku named the Space Harrier tribute stage from Bayonetta in their 2013 selection of "the trippiest video game levels".[71] Hanuman Welch of Complex included Space Harrier among the ten Sega games he felt warranted a "modern reboot", citing its "kinetic pace that would be welcome on today's systems."[72]

Complete series[edit]


  1. ^ This proper spelling appears in gameplay of the arcade and Master System versions and Space Harrier 3-D, but was written as "Euria" in the Master System instruction manual[11] and on both the packaging and manual for Space Harrier 3-D.[12][13] Both spellings appear in the game itself: "Dark Uriah" serves as the final boss, but "Euria" is seen in the game's ending text.


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External links[edit]