Sega Ages Space Harrier (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 20.08.2019

Review for Sega Ages Space Harrier on Nintendo Switch

Sega may not be part of the console scene anymore, but their legacy and the impact they had on the videogame industry as a whole is undeniable; be it on the console market in the past. or in the arcades up to this day. Perhaps more than any other company at the time, they pushed for the greatest visual impact possible in the arcades, starting with their impressive "super scaler" titles in the mid '80s to mid '90s. From then on, the strides they made in real-time 3D technology with titles such as Virtua Racing and Daytona USA cannot be overstated. They lead the charge, and the pursuit of high frame rate, high resolution 3D definitely began there, make no mistake. Some of those older games from the '80s may not necessarily be the most advanced visually anymore, but most of them still have great gameplay to offer nowadays, and their significance on the roadmap that SEGA followed to bring 3D looking "super scaler" graphics to the players as early as 1985 is an interesting thing to revisit even nowadays, which makes this Sega Ages line of Switch eShop titles perfectly preserved to be enjoyed both on bigger screens at home and on the go so enticing to fans of retro-gaming. How does Sega Ages Space Harrier stack up then?

Space Harrier, the original arcade release, places players in the role of 'Harrier,' a protagonist armed with a laser cannon, as he runs and flies through surreal looking environments populated by weird alien creatures, flying rocks, pillars, and vegetation such as giant mushrooms and the like. It is made of 18 stages, typically with a boss to defeat at the end of each ones, and is a fast paced, third person, on-rails shooter, as the character moves forward automatically. All players have to do is to move Harrier in all eight directions to dodge obstacles and enemies, while always shooting straight at incoming enemies and environmental hazards to take them out and avoid collision.

The sense of movement is conveyed by those elements zooming towards the camera, using the aforementioned Sega developed "Super Scaler" technology they had going on at the time, which was commercially used first in Hang-On. It is, as usual for an arcade game of this vintage, a short but challenging romp. Indeed, Space Harrier can be a bit brutal by default in this day and age. It was, after all, designed to eat people's precious, hard earned credits. Therefore, on modern hardware, it uses score attack as the biggest motivation for replay, which is why an online leaderboard is included.

Screenshot for Sega Ages Space Harrier on Nintendo Switch

This release is naturally an arcade-perfect conversion that comes with the usual Sega Ages bells and whistles, like a sound test, save states, replay saves, and arcade dip switch settings to adjust the number of lives, extra life extensions, and difficulty. As always, M2 threw in an extra mode to make the deal more appetizing than otherwise: 'Komainu Barrier Attack.' In this mode, the titular character is flanked by Komainus, which generate a barrier around him making him invincible. However when the Komainu take too much damage, the barrier dissipates until they recover, leaving Harrier exposed. This can be seen as an easier mode, to ease newcomers in, since, as mentioned above, the main game can be tough to get into.

The Space Harrier arcade cabinet, in all of its incarnations, from the basic stand-up setup, or the deluxe sit-down version, always used the same method of input: a big analogue flight stick. This naturally offered a level of accuracy that the smaller joysticks found on modern console controllers can't completely match, let alone d-pads of the consoles of the time this title was ported to. In its previous 3DS version, this was a small point of contention given the short travel distance of the system's built in circle pad, so M2 devised a touch screen control setup that felt a bit weird, but offered surprisingly great accuracy. On the Switch however, this was not brought back, yet M2 introduces here a "single Joy-Con" gyro control option, mimicking the original flight stick.

Screenshot for Sega Ages Space Harrier on Nintendo Switch

In the absence of any force feedback, it feels a bit strange and this makeshift stick's neutral position can be a bit tough to figure out in the heat of the action. However, short of being equipped with a fully blown flight stick, this is the best the Switch has to offer to truly emulate the original arcade feel, and it does work quite well. Though this was not tested for the sake of this review, there is no shortage of USB adapters out there, compatible with the switch dock, to make generic USB controllers work with Nintendo's hybrid system, so it may perhaps be possible to actually get a real flight stick to work with it for the ultimate experience.

As always, when it comes to displaying on modern TV sets, those older games designed with CRT monitors in mind, running at funky resolutions using non-square pixels, upscaling can be a… problem. With M2 at the helm however, those worries can be put to rest. The original Space Harrier ran at a resolution of 320x224 in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which adds up to pixels being very close to perfectly square. This means a straight up upscale by integer factors would fill almost entirely the vertical space of any 1080p screens or multiples of that. M2 however has dealt with this game before on the 3DS, where the stereoscopic screen was put to good use for a true glasses free 3D effect that impressed when it released back in 2013.

Screenshot for Sega Ages Space Harrier on Nintendo Switch

Back then, they reworked the game to render at a native 400x240 resolution, matching the 3DS's 3D screen for an improved visual impact using the full width of the display. This Switch version offers a similar widescreen option which, scaled up, fills a lot more of whichever screen it's being played on. On the Switch's 720p handheld display this does not quite fill up the entire screen real estate. When docked this could be expected to fill up the screen even more - however there does appear to be a catch. It seems that no matter which mode the game runs in, portable or docked, it is rendered at the exact same resolution, but simply further letterboxed on the TV screen, showing more of the bezel artwork selected in the options menu.

This is a bit of a shame. Naturally there is always the option to stretch the image to fully fill the screen in both modes, but this results in some pixels not being evenly scaled up, and looks quite unsightly indeed. Two screen filters exist to further suit players' preferences, one being the traditional scanline effect that does make the overall image look a bit dim by comparison, the other being an overall "smoothing" effect that just makes everything look blurrier. Both can also be combined. An extra effect combines all of those and warps the image to give a convex appearance to mimic older CRTs, but this is certainly not the preferred solution. Overall, presentation is top notch as it preserves the art of the game perfectly, but one wishes that the perfect scaling of the handheld mode would stretch a bit further when docked, at 1080p output.

Screenshot for Sega Ages Space Harrier on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Sega Ages Space Harrier is a perfect port of a great classic that remains a milestone in video gaming technology to this day, perfectly preserved for both home and portable play in its Switch incarnation. It could have included a better integer scaling option in docked mode, but it nails it flat on the head in every other area. The amount of content may be a bit small, even with Komainu mode thrown in, but for any Sega fan out there looking to revisit this classic, it's hard to go wrong with this. The 3DS' 3D version still remains attractive for "exclusively portable" gameplay, since it offers stereoscopic 3D, and this one doesn't.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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