Preview: 3D Space Harrier

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3d space harrier preview

3D Space Harrier, the first of four in a series of enhanced Sega classics, is making its way to the European Nintendo 3DS eShop sometime soon. I was fortunate enough to play the English version of the game at MCM London as part of the Nintendo Unleashed tour and I’m happy to report that it’s a very appealing conversion of the arcade classic.

Space Harrier was originally a Sega arcade machine released in 1985 and is considered by many to be the very first on-rails shooter. With its bright, 16-bit graphics and pseudo-3D perspective, Space Harrier became an instant hit. But that was nearly 30 years ago, what does 3D Space Harrier offer new players now?

The honest answer to this question is “not much” but 3D Space Harrier will undoubtedly go down well with fans of the original and 80’s retro games in general. The iconic, chequerboard world of the “Fantasy Zone” is back in full force and every single scaling sprite looks absolutely superb. In many ways the game benefits from the crispness of being on a 3DS screen as opposed to the muddy CRT screen of the original arcade version. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first stage’s unforgettable dragon boss, but watching it fly back and forth into the 3rd dimension definitely put a smile on my face. It has all the colour and charm of the original, but it also has the same smooth gameplay and tight controls to go with it.

Being a port of an 80’s arcade game arcade 3D Space Harrier‘s objective is simple, fly as far into the foreground as possible while shooting enemies and avoiding bullets and obstacles to rack up a high score. The Nintendo 3DS analogue stick works well as a replacement for the original arcade stick and the game was very responsive to me repeatedly jamming the A button to shoot.

3d space harrier preview3D Spacer Harrier can also be played using the touch screen. The stylus is held down to shoot and it’s then dragged it across the screen to move. It works surprisingly well, mostly because gameplay isn’t obscured by the moving of the hand, but also because it’s as tight and responsive as the “conventional” controls.

The most obvious addition to 3D Space Harrier though is developer M2’s implementation of 3D effects. I played for a few minutes in 2D to get to grips with the game before fiddling with the 3D slider. I was a little apprehensive to try it out as many older sprite-based games have offered little to no depth once converted to 3D, but luckily this was not the case with 3D Space Harrier. Dodging bullets as they came hurtling towards me as I smashed out my own barrage of lasers was exhilarating and the perspective added to the chequerboard floor made the whole game feel faster. And yes, the aforementioned dragon and his multi-jointed pals looked great in 3D too.

Of course, 3D Space Harrier isn’t actually faster than the original, but it is pretty challenging and can lead to a sore thumb. Thankfully there’s a whole load of customisable options fit for any kind of gamer including difficulty levels, y-axis inversion, the amount of points needed to get an extra life and my favourite, a tilting screen that uses the 3DS’s gyroscope to emulate moving arcade cabinet of the original.

Again, 3D Space Harrier won’t be to everyone’s liking and the shallow gameplay is unlikely to wow newcomers, but as far as Space Harrier ports go this one is by far the best. Unfortunately, due to the loud conditions of the expo, I couldn’t hear the sound tremendously well, but what I did hear was well defined and punchy.

There’s still no word as to when this game will be released or how much it’ll cost, but 3D Space Harrier for the Nintendo 3DS is definitely something retro arcade fanatics should keep an eye out for.

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