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Released originally back in late 1985, Space Harrier is a third-person shooter set in a colorful fantasy world. The main character, known only as the Harrier, moves around via jetpack while confronting a host of enemies - ‘enemies’ meaning literally every other creature on-screen. Although the objective was to destroy said enemies, players also had to dodge a ton of immovable objects and projectiles.
The Harrier was kept afloat by a laser cannon that happened to also be jet-propelled. The game was made up of eighteen stages, fifteen of which required beating a boss before moving on. In the final stage, players had to deal with seven of those previously beaten bosses in one rush.
Space Harrier was designed by Yu Suzuki, following a concept by a fellow Sega designer named Ida. Ida’s idea was contained in a 100-page proposal and featured a fighter jet that would shoot missiles into foregrounds of different map designs. Unfortunately, that concept would be rejected due to the sheer amount of work needed to bring it to life. So, Suzuki whittled it down to the version we know today, even going as far as to rewrite the entire original proposal.
Still, he made sure to shout Ida out in the final product. He named one of the enemy characters after him and gave it a big head because, as Suzuki himself said, “[Ida] had a really big head.”
Space Harrier came in one of three different arcade cabinet designs: an upright classic build, a sit-down style, and a deluxe cockpit version that moved depending on the player’s motion onscreen. The high production cost of these units meant that Sega was initially nervous about getting them built. Suzuki responded by offering up his own salary if the game went on to fail.
Luckily, it was a massive hit. It tied at runner-up for Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards in 1986. It kept up that lofty reputation when ported to different systems, attracting fawning reviews, and was even referred to as the ‘best arcade shoot-’em-up of the year’ by Computer Gaming World.
Head on over to the link below for a Retro Gamer love letter to this mid-80s icon:
Gameplay: Players controlled the Harrier, dodging projectiles and stationary objects while firing at enemies. All but three levels came with bosses at the end, with the final stage bringing on seven of them in one go. At the start, a voice greeted you with ‘Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. Get ready!’
Play: Interestingly enough, the honing feature on the shooting mechanics was a sort of compromise from Suzuki. After being told that shooter games don’t sell well - partly due to difficulty - he altered the game so that players simply had to shoot close to their target to hit them.
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