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Space Harrier

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Released: 1986

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: ZX Spectrum

Publisher: Elite

Developer: Keith Burkhill

Submitted by: Gavin Eke

It would've been interesting to be a fly on the wall when coder Keith Burkhill decided to accept the challenge of squeezing a several thousand pound coin-op into a 48K home computer with attribute problems. Mr Burkhill had already acquired a considerable reputation amongst Sinclair gamers for his part in converting Commando & Ghosts'n'Goblins to much acclaim. However, converting Space Harrier to the humble Speccy was another realm entirely. As a demonstration of trying to fit the contents of a pint pot into a thimble, there was not a better example.

The games structure was certainly not rocket science. Blast your way through sixteen levels, whilst dodging rocks, pillars & facing off against end of level guardians. As in the arcade original, you view your avatar from behind with objects/enemies flying into the screen. Progressing through a stage allows you to accrue points, often running into several figures. Learning the enemies attacks patterns is a necessity, therefore, a good memory is useful since their tactics do not vary upon each play. Your fighter can also run along the ground if the airways get a bit congested but be aware of trees, rocks & pillars speeding towards you.

So how does the Spectrum version compare to the arcade original? Considering what is being asked of a Z80 processor with no hardware assistance, Keith Burkhills programming ability allowed Spectrum owners a taste of the arcade. It's not perfect granted. Graphics are detailed & move smoothly at speed. The monochromatic pallet is unfortunate but unavoidable. However, the sprites and background graphics can become indistinguishable. The net result are several untimely collisions with objects or bullets that a player cannot react to in time. Fortunately, you begin with nine lives much like a cat & your fighter will need them too! As with many Spectrum games that push the envelope, spot effects & musical accompaniment take a back seat. Apart from a few sound effects, Space Harrier is a quiet game.

Still, a good conversion but not a brilliant one. However, Space Harrier was never going to receive a brilliant conversion on Sinclair's machine as this would require more powerful hardware suited to the task. Elite Systems were undoubtedly asking too much on this occasion but Keith Burkhill's reputation remained in tact as one of the Spectrum's conversion kings.

Space Harrier

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Released: 1985

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Arcade

Publisher: Sega

Developer: Yu Suzuki

Submitted by: Darran Jones

Welcome to the Fantasy Zone; and with five little words, I began a love affair with Sega that’s still going on 21 years later.

Sure, I’d played games by Sega before Yu Suzuki’s Space Harrier came along, but never had I experienced a game, arcade or otherwise, that made such a huge impression on me. Perhaps I was mesmerised by the outrageously gaudy worlds that my Space Harrier raced through, or maybe it was the huge hydraulic cabinet. Whatever it was, something about Space Harrier thrilled me like no other game.

To a bored 12-year old who was getting mightily fed up with the likes of Dig-Dug (a game I still loathe) Pac-Man and Space Invaders, Suzuki’s new game was a revelation. For starters it was fast, insanely fast, and it made my favourite Speccy game at the time (3D Deathchase in case you’re wondering) seem positively pedestrian. Oh, and then you had the dragons… Huge, meticulously detailed bosses that were as deadly as they were beautiful, and all the while that glorious theme tune pumped away in the background.

Yes, it was difficult, but by god, Space Harrier was a thing of beauty, and even today it possesses a striking elegance that urges you to return to it for just one more go. While Space Harrier’s premise was simple – just blast as many enemies as possible – the disconcerting speed that the game ran at took a fair while to acclimatise to. The chequerboard floor hurtled towards you at an alarming rate, which was only matched by the ferocity of Space Harrier’s many enemies. Add in the fact that they’d constantly fire at your last position and you found yourself continually weaving around the screen frantically trying to avoid anything that came near you. As with Robotron (another long-time favourite) a good session on Sega’s classic left you shaken and most definitely stirred at the end of it, especially if you were strapped into one of those hydraulic cabs…