#53: Space Harrier 3D (1988 Sega)

053spaceharrier3d

Yep, it’s Space Harrier on the Master System, again. Some may remember Sega’s previous attempt to bring their arcade hit to their home platform, but despite how that version turned out Sega decided to release this console-exclusive follow-up, even making it part of the SegaScope series which means more fun with the 3D glasses. Also Sega tried to make this cart seem like a true sequel by crafting all new stages (instead of simply converting the previous game to 3D like they would later do with Our Run). But those who weren’t fond of the first Space Harrier port shouldn’t be too surprised to find this new version fares just about the same, if not worse thanks to the specs.

The Imperial TIE fighters from Star Wars must be desperate for work.

The Imperial TIE fighters from Star Wars must be desperate for work.

Once again you take control of the titular Harrier who’s called upon to save the day after the land of dragons is apparently under siege by another evil force. In addition the Harrier’s friend Uriah, the good dragon you rode in the original game’s bonus stages, has been captured which prompts you to zoom off to the rescue through 13 new stages of first-person rail shooting action. Just like the original cart you’ll fly across the landscape toward the horizon blasting the baddies that soar your way with your cannon, and as usual you also have to dodge the indestructible poles and obstacles. At the end of each stage is a boss you must slay before advancing to the next stage, though this time around no bonus stages are provided. After you clear the 13th level you have to survive a ‘boss rush’ where you have to beat all the bosses a second time in one long gauntlet before doing battle with the ‘Evil Dragon King’ himself in the final showdown.

Strange creatures in this metallic forest.

Strange creatures in this metallic forest.

Obviously the first question is how the game looks while viewing it with the glasses and on the surface the 3D effects are pretty remarkable since you do get a cool sense of depth, something that naturally can’t be accurately depicted in the screenshots. Also it seems Sega made some improvements to the visuals; the sprites have a cleaner look to them unlike the mostly jumbled messes from the first game and backgrounds are actually supplied this time around. Unfortunately those who recall the struggles the first cart had with replicating the coin-op’s scaling will find that problem even worse here as the framerate is extremely sluggish and choppy, which is certainly unexplainable given that other 3D titles such as Missile Defense and Zaxxon 3D both sport smoother movement. A 2D mode is available for those who don’t want to use the 3D glasses but accessing it is needlessly complicated; you have to play the game and earn a high score then enter a code on the high score board to enable it. In other words you need to use the glasses to make it so you don’t need the glasses, instead of simply adding an option on the title screen.

Nothing like a boss battle under an Arctic moon.

Nothing like a boss battle under an Arctic moon.

As far as the gameplay itself goes, this “sequel” feels more like a remixed version of the first title instead of a true follow-up. Space Harrier 3D sports nearly identical action to the original title, even following the original’s stage patterns almost to the letter, with no new features or anything to distinguish it from the previous entry other than the 3D effects. The only real difference is a higher difficulty curve due to the bad framerate; the enemies and projectiles still look like they’re being stamped onto the screen and their molasses-slow speed makes it hard to accurately process their movement, leading to more than a few frustrating deaths. Playing in the 2D mode isn’t much better, in fact it makes the framerate issues even more glaring. You can continue after losing all your lives (hold Up on the d-pad and push 2-1-2-1-1), though you start at the beginning of the level instead of where you died at. The sound effects are just there, though you do get the scratchy “death scream” and “Get Ready!” voice clips, while the music consists of the classic Space Harrier theme and some new background tunes that aren’t as fun to listen to as the original game’s themes.

Did I wander into a Tron movie by mistake?

Did I wander into a Tron movie by mistake?

So Space Harrier 3D falls short in two ways; it comes off as another SegaScope title that tries to get by entirely on its looks, and fans of the original will also be disappointed that Sega simply applied a fresh coat of paint to the first game and called it a sequel, instead of offering any new experiences to the gameplay. Those looking for a real sequel will find a somewhat-decent entry on the Genesis, so unless you really need another cart for the glasses, you’d be better off zooming past this sad chapter in the series.

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