Space Harrier – A Master System classic

by Pat B on November 28, 2012

Hello Everyone!
Well, I’m finally back after a long Thanksgiving break. So, I’m gonna get back in the groove with a game that I’ve been meaning to review for a while. Space Harrier was the very first Sega Master System game I ever played. I remember the first time I saw it like it was yesterday. It was the first time I saw an 8-bit game on a console that wasn’t the NES, and to be honest, it was the first time I felt a bit of doubt about my beloved NES, which I had built up in my mind as the supreme video game console.

Space Harrier – Arcade, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, Sega 32X, Sega Saturn, Sharp X68000, Turbo Grafx 16


Space Harrier was originally released in the arcades back in 1985. It was ported to the Sega Master System though in 1986. It was developed and published by Sega. There are two versions of Space Harrier for the Sega Master System. One is Space Harrier, which is a direct port of the original arcade version, and the other is Space Harrier 3D, which is a sequel to the original. This game was meant for arcade audiences but it was the home console gamers that gave it life outside of the arcades.

The original Space Harrier arcade cabinet. It sports a flight stick instead of a joystick to control Harrier.

This game is touted as one of the first home console games to use the 3D shooter game play concept. When you play it, you can see where the inspiration for games like AfterBurner and even StarFox came from. Since this game was all about the pseudo 3D graphics, Space Harrier 3D took things a step further and utilized the SegaScope 3D glasses. Think of these like a very early version of the Nintendo Virtual Boy. Beyond the two versions on the Master System, Space Harrier has been re-released on almost every game console produced from the late 80’s to today.

The Sega 3D glasses. If you own these then you must own Space Harrier 3D.

Game Play
Space Harrier takes place in the Land of the Dragons. You play as Harrier, an extra-terrestrial warrior, that’s trying to rid the Land of the Dragons of invaders. You control Harrier as you shoot at jet planes, one eyed Mammoths, and other various enemies that have nothing in common with each other all while you avoid flying into things like weeds, rocks, trees, and of course, Matsutake Mushrooms. Harrier gets his ability to fly from the cannon he holds under his arm. Don’t ask me how the gun flies because it’s not explained anywhere…anywhere.

Just some of the weird stuff you encounter in this game.

Space Harrier is made up of 18 stages or “waves”. Each wave ends with a boss fight with a difficulty level ranging from ridiculously easy to beast mode. The easy bosses are easy because their attacks are slow and predictable. The hard bosses are hard because they’re just so goddamn big. They fill the screen when they move so you constantly have to be on the move all while dodging anything that comes near you. It becomes a game of finding the one safe spot on the screen you can fire from while avoiding getting hit by something.

One of the early end bosses that fill the screen.

The game is played from a third person perspective. The view is from behind Harrier as he runs and flies forward through the Land of the Dragons. Enemies materialize either in the background or fly onto the screen from the foreground. You can move Harrier all over the screen in order to shoot enemies or dodge obstacles. Staying airborne offers you the best chance of survival as you progress through the game. Running on the ground can be helpful but you can trip over smaller obstacles which makes you vulnerable to enemies for a few seconds.

Space Harrier Game Play

You only have one gun throughout this game and it’s not upgradable. This game also commits the fatal sin of shooters by not allowing the player to hold down the fire button to rapid fire. You have to press the “1” or “2” buttons over and over again to fire continuously. Even by doing that though, the significant lag between button presses and action on the screen keeps your fire rate at a minimal level. I found that shooting at the places where an enemy was moving to was far more effective than shooting straight on at them.

There’s a couple bonus stages in this game where you ride a Falcor-esque beast. No detail was spared as Sega made sure to add a pink Baboon-like ass to back of this thing.

I mentioned that there’s button press lag in this game but the game itself is also a bit sluggish. The Master System is just barely powerful enough to pull off the scrolling 3D graphics while keeping the action flowing at the same time. There is some definite slow down at times and it’s bad enough to nearly kill the game play. Also, this game throws your depth perception off a little while you play it. The game may try to look 3D but it’s still very much 2D and it can make it hard to figure out just how far away or close enemies are. Basically, if something is coming at you, dodge early because if you wait, it could be too late.
At the beginning of this review I said that this was the first Master System game I saw as a kid. I also said that it planted a prickly seed of doubt in my mind about the NES being the supreme 8-bit game console. I considered the NES the king of consoles but when I saw Space Harrier, all that changed. Graphically, Space Harrier was doing things that I had never seen the NES do. Seeing the 3D scaling that the Master System was busting out in Space Harrier made me realize that Nintendo had some competition.

Things get really nuts when you get to this stage. Keep your eyes on Harrier to avoid being hypnotized by the scaling floor and ceiling.

Everything from the 3D effects to the bright and colorful graphics make this game look like more than just an 8-bit game. Now, I’m not saying this game looks great but it does look better than the standard 8-bit fare that was on the NES back in the day. There is however some definite pixelation and blocky-ness and the slowdown in the game accentuates it. When the game is firing on all cylinders though, it comes together nicely.
The sound and music really surprised me in this game. It doesn’t sound bad and it even shows off a couple voice effects. When you die, Harrier yells out “Ahhhhh!” and then a voice says “get ready” before you start your new life. The music is standard 8-bit stuff but it can be catchy from time to time so it’s worth having the volume up when you play the game. Game sounds aren’t bad, they’re nothing to write home about but, not bad.
Collectibility – Common
Space Harrier is a fairly common title for the Master System since there’s two versions of the game available for it. Almost every time I’ve seen Master System games for sale, Space Harrier is usually one of them. Still, it’s a fun game and definitely worth playing so if you don’t have it, pick it up. And if you happen to have a Master System with the SegaScope glasses then there’s no reason to not own this game.
Average Value – $4 loose, $9 Complete in Box
Rarity – Common with a 25% rating on
Happy Gaming and Happy Collecting!
Follow Pat’s Retro Video Game Reviews on Twitter @PatsGameReviews or you can hear me on the Play On! Podcast right here on Planet Arbitrary or on iTunes!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

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Steve December 5, 2012 at 10:15 am

Review Earthbound you wiener!


Pat B December 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for the great feedback! I’ll give you a special shout out on the Play On! Podcast tonight! Thanks for reading!


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