So I finally sat down to play Sega's late-80's arcade coin-op game, Space Harrier, in its recent emulated incarnation on the Wii Virtual Console.
Now, I consider myself a longtime fan of this game. I played the original stand-up arcade cabinet in the basement of my college dorm building back in the day, and studiously avoided the watered-down home versions, as the sprite-scaling effects were too hard to pull off at the time. I have since played it in emulated form on the GameBoy Advance, in remade form as part of the Sega Ages PS2 series, and last summer I got to ride the hydraulic-powered sit-down arcade version at Funspot in New Hampshire. The background music still comes effortlessly to mind, and modern covers of the tune are among my favorite remixes.
But I've never actually played Space Harrier all the way through from beginning to end, and this time I resolved to keep putting simulated quarters in, carelessly wasting lives and continuing as necessary until I'd experienced the entire game. And in so doing, I realized that there's a reason I'd never previously done this.
Space Harrier in large doses is kind of cheap, very repetitive, and ultimately not as much fun to finish as it is to start.
It's an arcade game with a buy-in continue feature, which means it's designed to eat quarters as quickly as possible, while continuously teasing the incredible sights yet to come. But it's also a product of its time, a fairly small game in terms of ROM size -- not much bigger than an NES game if Wii memory blocks are anything to go by -- and this means that many of the enemies in later levels are recolored versions of enemies seen earlier. The pseudo-3D perspective still works well, but as the pace picks up, it becomes hard to see incoming enemy fire because the player sprite in the foreground constantly gets in the way. And the initial thrill of the game's sensation of speed eventually wears off, especially in later levels when the obstacles come fast and furious and enemies flock and fire so thickly that the player character spends as much time dying as flying, and there's no time to appreciate the scenery.
I did play the game all the way through this time. I endured 17 levels of slightly repainted action, a couple of Neverending Story-esque bonus levels, and the Stage 18 boss rush sequence reprising most of the big bads. It took me less than 30 minutes of rapid firing, dodging, and spendthrift quarter-pumping to reach the anti-climactic "THE END" display, at which point I was completely ready for the game to be over.
So the nostalgic bloom is off that particular rose. Sigh.
At least the music still rocks. Save yourself the trouble of actually playing Space Harrier and check out my favorite Overclocked Remix of its theme, by the master himself, DJ Pretzel, here.