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RELEASE DATE (NA): August 14, 1989 GENRE: Rail Shooter
// review by Meow

Harrier than a shaggy dog.

Back in the day, the simple fact a game was "3D" sold like hot cakes. However, a lot of these games, now days, clearly show the voodoo that was pulled to create the illusion of 3D effects, and since 3D no longer amazes since it exists everywhere, a lot of these games that sold on these tricks did not stand the test of time. However... a few stood tall, though obviously outdated, they have withstood the shifts from 8-bit to 64-bit and now regale their tales in the retirement homes of Virtual Consoles and retro game stores. Space Harrier II is among these games.

I was first introduced to the Space Harrier series back in the late 2000s through the best included minigame in the Nintendo DS version of Sega All-Stars Tennis based on Space Harrier where you take your character of choice (usually NiGHTS for me) and knock tennis balls into strange gooblies in a 3rd person space shooting sort of fashion that looped between two or three stage settings. I played this minigame far more than the main tennis part of the game. Fast forward to 2011, I got myself a RetroN3 and thus could finally get to try some Sega Genesis games, and one caught my eye: Space Harrier II. For only a couple bucks, it was mine.

So, just how dandy is this old game?

To be short, it's fun, but is clearly painfully dated. Using some sort of special "Sega super awesome sprite scaling technology", they pulled off faux 3D effects by having sprites pop in from the "distance" as really tiny and continually scale upwards (or downwards in some foes cases), and it's neat to look at, but I feel it becomes way too easy to be disoriented as to what is exactly where. Plus, it becomes fairly obvious that a lot of these enemy sprites in the game have NO animation, banking mostly on the sprite-scaling to amaze players, when you see things like these Suits of armor with swords enemies that just slide across the screen and that's it. The most animation is going to come from the wide variety of bosses, and even then there's this silly winged cat boss that charges you on the ground after you shoot off its wings that just looks like it's sliding at you.

Flying without a jetpack, huh? Must've been one powerful enchilada.

Getting into the gameplay, you're a blond guy in a very 80s jumpsuit carrying some tube that you shoot giant...pillows(?) out of to cream the still images of Fantasy Zone in a 3rd person Shmup style. You float around in the air, and you can run along the ground, but be careful if you do because there are occasionally destructible small obstacles that can trip you up, which can be bad if there are foes around shooting their space donuts at you.

Every million points, you get a 1up, and every frame you're alive you get 100 free points. There are 12 stages (plus a thirteenth final stage that's the final boss plus a boss rush), and they're about 2-3 minutes long on average (considering everything goes well), and at the end of each one is a boss to challenge you...or simply eat your lives, it seems, in a few boss cases. Each boss will, also, run away if you take too long to defeat it (probably to prevent players from abusing the accumulation of points from staying alive). On deaths, there's this weird high-pitched whine that occurs, so don't play this when you have a headache.

The neat thing about this game is that you can start from any of the 12 normal stages, but you'll still need to complete them all if you want to fight the final boss. The music isn't very notable, but it's not bad to listen to as long as there isn't high-pitched death whines. Once you get the hang of the game, it won't take you any longer than about 30 minutes, and it's available on Steam for pretty cheap, so nab it on a sale with the rest of the Sega Megadrive/Genesis collection for dirt cheap. That is, if you're willing to put up with some super archaic 3D effects. Oh, and don't play it if you’re epileptic. There are about three stages where the game has a flashing ceiling and floor.

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