Sega's never been shy about making their classic games available to anyone with a retro itch to scratch and a meager amount of savings left. The past few years have seen countless compilations, re-releases, and kid-friendly TV devices meant to pass the glory of Sega's best years on to future generations, and while this approach certainly makes more sense than Nintendo's unbearably slow trickle of content, it’s given many of these games an unfair sense of ubiquity.
Thankfully, developer M2's reverence for classic gaming makes their rereleases of Sega properties more than just obligatory ports, and the team's treatment of the 1985 arcade showpiece Space Harrier presents the experience in its purest form possible, with plenty of options to make things more comfortable for spoiled gamers 30 years removed from its original release date.
If you're not familiar with Space Harrier, it's a fairly straightforward shooter built around a impressive-for-its time attempt at 3D fakery. The game sends your fashionable '80s teen zooming down checkerboard-patterned landscapes with two goals: shoot everything that moves, and avoid everything that doesn't. Space Harrier's premise feels a bit simple even for 1985 -- there's not a single power-up to be found -- but Sega sold this game based on its stunning visuals, and a pricey cabinet which would rock and tilt based on your character's movement. The fact that M2 managed to port this experience to the 3DS isn't all that impressive. However, the various ways 3D Space Harrier allows you to tweak things make this version of Space Harrier vastly preferable to your standard quick-and-dirty arcade translations is.
Of course, the standard difficulty options are here, and they definitely come in handy due to Space Harrier's origins as a money-hungry arcade game. But M2's port makes itself notable through its many unorthodox options -- even if I did have to consult the manual to see what some of them did. 3D Space Harrier allows you to simulate the full arcade experience by tilting the screen appropriately -- framed by the surrounding cabinet, if you prefer -- with the option of adding the sounds of clicking buttons and creaking machinery to the general FM synthesis din.
M2 has also added a great number of concessions to cut down on the pain caused by Space Harrier's often out-of-nowhere deaths; 3D lets you select any finished stage from the outset, and save and load on a whim. 3D Space Harrier's most surprisingly effective addition, though, can be found in its touch screen mode -- instead of feeling like some Nintendo-mandated feature, it actually makes the game surprisingly easier to play, as it turns your blond avatar into an easily maneuverable instrument of auto-fire death with the touch of a stylus.
Even with M2's first-class treatment, Space Harrier remains a shallow game built around dated visual pizazz, and that hasn't really changed. But you're not likely to find a move lavish and loving presentation than Space Harrier 3D, even if the experience isn't meant to last much longer than your quarters would've.
Visuals: It's Space Harrier, and about as Space Harrier-y as one would expect. Still, M2 allows player to experience the game in its original aspect ratio, which is appreciated.
Sound: It's just as metallic and crunchy as ever, and the sound effects tend to drown out the kickin' music -- shame there wasn't an option to adjust the sound levels independently.
Interface: Clean, with all of the options clearly presented. 3D Space Harrier could do a better job explaining what some of these variations do, but I guess that's what digital instruction manuals are for.
Lasting Appeal: Space Harrier was never intended to last for more than a handful of minutes at a time, so don't expect anything more than quick, pick-up-and-play action.
You couldn't ask for a more loving version of Yu Suzuki's classic than 3D Space Harrier, even though Sega never intended this game as anything other than a brisk, Reagan-era thrill.