Space Harrier was originally released by SEGA in 1985 and produced by Yu Suzuki, the legend behind many of the company’s most popular and innovative games. It spawned several ports on various platforms and is arguably one of the original “endless runners” (at least in the literal sense.)
Like most games of its era, Space Harrier was short on story. The title screen pictured your character sitting on top of a giant robot, next to a one-eyed wooly mammoth. After hitting start, your character appeared running on a grid-like landscape with a distant land visible beyond the horizon. A digitized voice proclaimed “WELCOME TO THE FANTASY ZONE” followed by “GET READY”. Then things quickly came towards you.
The gameplay could best be described as a third-person shooter on rails. Your character ran non-stop across the landscape while bizarre creatures flew towards you (some shooting projectiles), and obstacles (such as trees, rocks, or indestructible pillars) appeared. Touching any of these would stop your character dead in his tracks as he groaned in agony, and cause you to lose a life. At the end of every level was a boss encounter, and defeating it would cause the landscape to change and a new world to appear over the horizon.
The sense of speed in the game was truly amazing, especially considering it was achieved through pixel scaling trickery since true 3D graphics were still many years off.
Some other highlights included:
– Huge bosses at the end of every level
– Great music (very 80s Japanese!)
– Simple gameplay
– Bizarre and seemingly random enemies: giant mushrooms, floating heads, jellyfish, wooly mammoths, and robots
– New environments: every stage was a new world with new, bizarre, enemies.
– Bonus stages: after every three levels, you’d get to ride a giant flying white beast (almost certainly inspired by The NeverEnding Story) and be invincible while racking up bonus points and extra lives
If you get a chance, I highly recommend checking it out!