Ah, Space Harrier. The brainchild of Yu Suzuki, the arcade version used technology previously used for Hang-On in order to create a cabinet where the entire thing would move with the joystick controls, which is why it’s well-known as a ‘body sensation’ game. Brought into homes, Space Harrier loses a bit of that luster, but the gameplay still solid, and the Sega Ages version brings enough to the table that you might consider the purchase.
Sega Ages Space Harrier is the latest game in the Switch’s Sega classics lineup, and like the other games in this series, is done by M2. Apart from the clean menus and options like scanlines and backgrounds that have been in every release, M2 has focused on perfectly recreating the arcade version as well as a new mode that changes up gameplay quite a bit.
The regular arcade mode runs at 60 FPS, and plays as it was originally meant to, with Harrier flying into the background at high speeds while shooting down enemies and dodging obstacles which may or may not be destructible. As you may know, shooting in Space Harrier is more about moving towards the enemy’s position on the screen rather than actual aiming, and so the game is all around moving Harrier around in order to chase after the enemies. Combined with the obstacles flying at you, it adds up to a frantic experience which might even feel money-grubby in the way deaths can pile up in an instant. Enemy variety is also lacking, but this can be excused somewhat as a product of its time.
That said, there are a few things that really change up the way gameplay feels in this version, and these are the HD Rumble and the gyro controls. Thanks to how each successful hit responds with a slight rumble in the Joy-Cons, it becomes significantly easier to know just when to get out of the way against, say, a boss. As for the gyro controls, the game offers this option when only one Joy-Con is connected to the system, and you raise the Joy-Con upright and control it as if it were a flight stick. Resetting the controls are done by pressing in the left or right stick, and I’d recommend doing this during the downtime when you lose a life. I found that they worked remarkably well, and I even achieved my highest score in standard arcade mode using the rather intuitive controls. Gyro controls were also previously in the Wii Virtual Console version of Space Harrier using the Nunchuk, and I’m glad to see the option return in this version.
Finally, let’s talk about the new mode added in by M2, titled KOMAINU Barrier mode. Thanks to the power of two fantasy dogs, Harrier is provided with a shield that was originally used to protect one of the bosses. Thanks to the shield, Harrier is able to break through any obstacles for points, including previously unbreakable ones. It’s essentially a tackle that is active at all times, unless either of the dogs are hit by a stray bullet.
This essentially makes the obstacles part of the game’s original hellish difficulty moot, which turns this mode into something of an easy mode. Thanks to the barrier, it’s actually encouraged to ram into the objects, something that is likely bad in the long term in terms of picking up bad habits, but is really fun while you’re at it. Thanks to the mode, and its infinite continues, I was finally able to see the hidden boss, Haya Oh (who debuted on the Master System version), and see the ending of the game.
Other than these changes, each stage now has a line of dialogue that give some context or tips about the stage. My favorite has to be the snarky one during the second bonus stage, where Harrier remarks that if only Uriah the cat dragon would stay around, he’d be invincible.
KOMAINU Barrier Mode is overall a mode which changes enough that you might call this its own experience. I would even say that KOMAINU Barrier Mode alone makes the game worth the price, notwithstanding the excellent version of the arcade original. The game does suffer from some limitations of its era and in some ways its arcade design, but this version does make a good argument as to why it remains a Sega port staple.
Sega Ages Space Harrier releases on August 22, 2019 on Nintendo Switch.