Posted on July 29th, 2009 6 comments
Maker: NEC Avenue
Release Date: 12/9/88
Price: 6700 yen
Media: HuCard (4 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 22.72 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A 3D shooter where you control the Harrier hero and defeat enemies. The animation is rough, but the graphics themselves are pretty. The bosses and bonus stages from the arcade version are accurately ported over. The first four-megabit PC Engine game.”
I respect a game system by how well it can play Space Harrier. I therefore don’t think much of the Famicom. I do, however, have an absolutely tremendous amount of respect for the Sega Master System, which featured a port (programmed largely by Yuji Naka) that had no business being as impressive as it looked. The PC Engine, meanwhile, I have a fair-to-middlin’ amount of respect for. At least it runs at arcade speed.
Space Harrier was the game that broke all standards of “extreme,” the way mid-’80s arcades defined it, and the PCE port follows in its footsteps…sort of. No, it’s nothing like the giant rotating sit-down cabinet that cost 1.66 million yen to purchase new from Sega 24 years ago. The checkerboard landscape is replaced with an Amiga-like rasterbar flatland. The harrier and all the other sprites are smaller than in the arcade — this is actually the first 4-megabit HuCard ever made (hence the high price), but even 512K of cartridge space only got you so far with Yu Suzuki’s classic. The music, like with NEC Avenue’s last port, doesn’t hold a candle to the original, although the sound effects are nearly spot-on and at least one or two tracks sound pretty nice. (This one’s the bonus-stage theme — how many players even made it far enough into Space Harrier to realize it had a bonus stage?)
Then again, maybe I should stop complaining. Naka’s SMS conversion was a remarkable novelty upon its 1986 release — a wonder of assembly-language programming that really has no equal on that platform outside of Phantasy Star’s 3D labyrinths — but the PCE version is frankly a lot closer in look and feel to the arcade. Like Fantasy Zone, it was programmed by the folks at Dempa Shinbunsha for NEC; Dempa released another port for the X68000 in 1989 that looked (and sounded) much closer to the arcade, but still featured that stupid stripey ground instead of the proper checkerboard. A completely, completely complete port didn’t come until the 32X version in 1994.
Still, this port was head-and-shoulders above the SMS and Famicom in looks, and that in itself was enough to shift packages — and to further solidify the PCE’s reputation as an arcade powerhouse.
Despite its reputation and apparent speed, Space Harrier is not hard to beat with a little practice. It’s a completely patternized game — the enemies (and trees/columns) always appear in the same place, with the same timing, and they are guaranteed to always fire at the player’s location. As long as you remember to keep moving at all times, you really never run into a situation where you’re too flustered to avoid death.
To prove it, here’s part one of a complete run that makes the game look piss-simple. Click on for part two.