Space Harrier (Elite) Review | Commodore User - Everygamegoing

Commodore User

Space Harrier
By Elite
Commodore 64

Published in Commodore User #41

Space Harrier

Space Harrier takes the shoot-'em-up about as far as I can see it going on the C64. In this latest coin-op conversion, Elite have succeeded in knitting a convincing 3D backdrop with tremendously fast-moving characters.

At first glance the game looks pathetic by comparison with the original. Sound, graphics, just about everything look like a pale imitation.

It's only when you play it that you appreciate the quality of the conversion. Cosmetics apart, Chris Butler has succeeded in reproducting the feeling of speed, flight and panic which were the key ingredients of the arcade machine.

As you would expect there is a fictitious justification for all this frenzied destruction of computer-drawn space ships and creatures. It's all to do with 'Dragonland' - a once-tranquil place that has been overrun with evil.

A 'supernatural phenomena' is the cause of all this mischief and, yes Space Harrier pilot, it's down to you to fly through all the levels blasting the nasties until you get to the big so-and-so at the end of innumerable waves.

The game kicks off at break-neck speed. Your pilot hurtles through the air with his jet-pack on his back. There are no super-duper space ships here. His weapon is carried in his arms - a super powerful laser that blasts anything in its sights to the sound of a loud, resonant bang from the sound chip.

If you hit a series of rocks the explosions can become deafening.

The first screen is one of the prettiest I managed to get to.

Shrubbery and trees zoom past the planet surface whilst giant rocks and neat formations of blue alien ships attack in waves.

At the end of this level you encounter your first dragon - wriggling, ducking and diving and incredibly difficult to score two direct hits on - enabling you to fly onto level two.

You get a really tough nasty at the end of every level. On level two, you get your four faces, level three has a two-headed dragon (yuk!) and level four, a robot and so on.

Altogether, there are twenty-two levels.

Certain objects cannot be blasted out of your way - like the pillars on level two - your laser fire just bounces off with a metallic sounding plink! Skilful flying and dodging is the key to these types of levels, spotting an object when it is just a tiny dot on the horizon and taking immediate evasive action.

Once you get past level one (you will after a few plays) you find yourself with just seven lives. Every time an alien scores a direct hit, or you collide with an object your pilot is thrown in the air by the force of the crash and a life is lost.

A mark of how good the game is, is that when this happens you might find yourself saying "fiddle sticks", "Oh dash it" or something similar. The point is you really care about losing lives because you want to get as far as possible.

My favourite level - of the ones I got to - was level three. There is nothing to be blasted here - just avoided. There are huge crystal-like boulders and tall mushroom-like structures that you fly over, or dodge at ground level. It's just the pure joy of flying.

One of the things I didn't like about Space Harrier were the graphical glitches. OK, the thing shifts like no 3D shoot-'em-up ever did before - but the kind of glitches I mean are the obvious hallmarks of rushing the game out without thoroughly play-testing it.

Occasionally a graphical block will appear where an explosion should have been. As there are several perfect explosions in the game the only conclusion is that Elite couldn't be bothered, or didn't have time, to tidy up these glitches before the game was released.

That's just one example, there are several. The point is a top ranking company like Elite shouldn't be doing this sort of thing.

To put these glitches in perspective I would say they were more irritating than game-spoiling. It would be impossible to spoil such an excellent and super fast shoot-'em-up.

Like so many Elite games before it, Space Harrier has that elusive, indefinable quality of addictiveness. Forgive the cliche but you just can't put it down. If you buy this you won't load much else until you have clocked it. Takes its place in my Top Ten best ever shoot-'em-ups for the C64 - at about number 4.

Eugene Lacey

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