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Space Harrier 2

I loves me some Space Harrier 2.  As an original launch title for the Sega Genesis Space Harrier 2 might have been the best of the bunch.  Well, that’s not exactly saying much considering what it was competing with.  Yeah the world was waiting with baited breath for Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and Altered Beast.  Anyway, as a technical showpiece it delivered but more importantly it still holds up as an enjoyable game despite its steep difficulty.

In the distant future (the year 6236 in fact, none of that 20XX stuff here!) Harrier receives a call for help from a distant corner of the galaxy.  After arriving via Cosmic Gate he finds Fantasy Land overrun by monsters and resolves to eliminate them on his own.

The original Space Harrier was both an original and enjoyable game back in the mid-80s with its super scaler technology allowing for a ridiculous number of sprites to fill the screen and scale smoothly in and out of the playing field.  While it saw ports to nearly every computer format of the time the Sega Master system version is the one most familiar to gamers.  While it wasn’t perfect it was a well done approximation of the arcade game.  Space Harrier 2 takes all of the elements of the original and dials it up to 11, creating one of the most intense rail shooters of all time.

You have free reign to choose which of the 12 levels to start with, and in many ways this might shape your perception of the game going forward.  Every level moves at a different pace, some more laid back and slow such as Stuna Arena and Zero Polis while others are mind numbingly fast such as Hot Palace and Yees Land.  Only the initial level changes, after that you’ll plow through the remaining 11 in order before facing off against all 12 bosses again before Dark Harrier.

Space Harrier is an incredibly simple game on its face.  All 3 buttons perform the same function: shoot.  There are no power-ups whatsoever and collision with most background objects and enemies will kill you.  Some obstacles can be destroyed, such as trees and bushes while others will trip you up for a few seconds, which is literally a death sentence.  You can run along the ground if you so choose but wise gamers will use the full screen real estate to try and avoid the chaos thrown in your face.

It’s in the level design that Space Harrier 2 shines.  With its checkerboard floor and second person view you might be reminded of 3-D World Runner but SH came first, and Square’s blatant rip off can only wish it were half as good.  Every level introduces new enemies and obstructions to contend with, each with their own patterns of attack.  Due to the changing pace of each level you can never settle into a comfortable rhythm and try to coast through the game.  This is exemplified in each boss battle.  The speed of each boss is shocking to say the least and will often times leave you wondering what the hell just happened.  Despite the brevity of each level the waves of enemies, their forms of attack and the punishing bosses mean you’ll have to be quick on your feet in order to react and avoid death.

A little too quick in fact.  I wonder just how many are prepared for the game’s speed.  While Space Harrier 2 isn’t overly challenging it does have its moments.  The one hit deaths feel a bit cheap and the later stages of the game are inhuman in terms of the sheer number of pillars and bullets.  True, you can avoid a significant chunk of the enemy fire but the at times confusing viewpoint will throw you off.  You only have a few lives and zero continues to brave the storm and those Bonus Stages only help somewhat.

Even in spite of that Space Harrier 2 is still an enjoyable ride almost 25 years later and holds up better than most of the Genesis’ early fare.  There aren’t many games created in this style and Space Harrier 2 is certainly one of the better efforts.

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