Its scary that Sega did so much for the shooting genre so early on
The genre of on-rail 3D shooters has seen a sort of resurgence in the past few years, with some excellent titles finding home on Nintendo's home console the Nintendo Wii. Western gamers were finally offered the chance to play the original N64 game Sin & Punishment on the Virtual Console, and its sequel Sin & Punishment 2 was released to critical acclaim at retail, while more traditional first person on rail shooters were aplenty on the console, especially with the Resident Evil and House of the Dead series, with the Wii Remote being favoured for that type of experience as it proved to be an excellent pointing device. However, long before all of these, there was Space Harrier. Of all the aforementioned titles, Sin & Punishment offered the closest experience to the one found in the game that is just about to be reviewed. Whether a fan of SEGA or of the aforementioned series of shooting games by Treasure, stick with Cubed3 for the rest of this review!
Just as was the case with games like Hang-On, Super Hang-On, After Burner or Out Run, Space Harrier made heavy use of SEGA's sprite scaling technology called Super Scaler that basically helped accelerating the calculations required to zoom in or out big sprites on the arcade hardware available in the mid 1980s. This helps simulate objects coming towards the camera in a fake 3D environment that is actually merely 2D graphics giving the impression of 3D.
That has not changed at all in this 3DS version, and the game, according to its development team M2 anyway, turns out to be more of a port to the handheld than a dumped ROM of the original being emulated, which would otherwise have been quite impossible to turn into true stereoscopic 3D. Here, the 3D effect works great, and in a game already as thrilling as Space Harrier, it works to make the experience even more of a thrill!
The game is fairly simple to understand. The main character runs forward on its own and all the player can do is to move the character left or right as it runs in order to dodge obstacles, or even take off from the ground and start flying around, all while shooting at anything that comes his way and tries to stop him from moving onward.
At the end of each stage, a boss awaits and has to be defeated, although sometimes it will just fly away on its own, and the game will still tell the player "You're doing great!"
Contrary to 3D Super Hang-On, which had an option to control the game with the gyro-sensor, which would then negate the option to perfectly feel the 3D effect as the console would be moved around quite a lot, Space Harrier 3D only relies on the D-Pad, Touch Screen and Circle Pad as viable options for moving the character around, which makes sense anyway given the genre.
While the D-Pad will make the experience feel more like the console adaptations of the time, namely on Master System, the Circle Pad comes closer to replicating the feel of the original arcade cabinet that used a big flight stick. The Touch Screen control option allows for firing at will automatically when holding down the stylus or a thumb on the screen, while moving it around will move the character where desired. It feels weird at first, but it's not such a bad idea actually, and leaves the possibility for both left- and right-handed players to play as equals for once. Speaking of the original Arcade cabinet by the way, this was the second full-body experience game made by SEGA.
This time, in the deluxe sit-down version anyway, a person would sit in a huge seat as the whole machine would move around and shake according to the movements of the character on screen. Obviously, the Nintendo 3DS is incapable of recreating completely that kind of experience, but M2 went to great lengths, as it did with 3D Super Hang-On, to make the experience as close to the original as the hardware would allow. As such, there's an option for the screen to slightly move around, just as it would on the actual machine, to sort of recreate that sensation that it is the player who is moving around, complete with the noises of the actual motors in the machine (the machine was not mounted on hydraulics, by the way) coming out of the speakers, although that option can also be left out.
The stereoscopic 3D, which is the most interesting addition of the package here, works incredibly well. It actually helps quite a lot in judging how far from the character incoming bullets are and makes dodging them and navigating through them quite a bit easier as a result. The graphics may show their age, but the colourful environments were very impressive for their time, and the 3D feeling of the game gets a new breath of life on Nintendo's handheld.
The same kind of other options exist within the game as they did in 3D Super Hang-On, which is to say that difficulty settings are selectable, whether it's the difficulty level itself, the score to be obtained to get extra lives, and the amount of lives per credit, too. Upon a "Game Over," the game allows the virtual "insert" of another coin to continue to play, but this only works a few times. It's possible to select from what stage to start over if running out of "coins" though, and besides, it is still possible to make quick saves so for those who can't beat the game fair and square like on the original hardware, options to alleviate the difficulty are there for them to use. However, they should be used with great moderation for fear that it would eliminate any fun coming from actually playing the game like a man. That being said, given the portable nature of the game, the save function is welcome in order to be able to enjoy the game in shorter play sessions rather than having to beat the whole thing in one shot, which is always nice. Being able to save and reload doesn't mean that option has to be used to cheat!
Finally the same kind of options to tweak the sound, and listen to the soundtrack of the game are there as well, making sure the package is as complete as can be.
Whereas in 3D Super Hang-On, on one hand there was great controls that made the 3D effect useless and on the other there was an excellent 3D effect that couldn't be used in conjunction with the gyro-sensor controls, here all of its great additions can be used combined together without any restrictions. However, the game can, and will, prove more repetitive to some than the motorbike game did as a large amount of stages end up showing the same kind of things over and over, just with different colour coatings and designs, which are floating enemies, bullets, and still obstacles either on the ground or in the air. However, that being said, 3D Space Harrier is still loads of fun and a great experience that any fan of classic games has to try out if they haven't already, that much is undeniable, and the game has still aged much better than a lot of its contemporaries.
Its scary that Sega did so much for the shooting genre so early on