back to article Vertical take-off and laughing: Space Harrier

One of the outright joys of retro gaming is being able to look back at some very esoteric design choices and general weirdness that sometimes surrounds old titles: forgotten little segments of youth culture, odd nuances that found their place due to technical limitations, and novel arcade game concepts designed to draw more and …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Southsea Arcade

    I remember this turning up at the arcade near Clarence pier at Southsea. The full hydraulic set up, parked right at the entrance to lure people in.

    The queue to get on, and the crowd around it is something I have rarely seen in an arcade to that extent. People willingly shoving in their 50p's (50p for 9 lives or 20p for 3) and rarely getting very far all, while people stood there slack jawed at the graphics. Sure people stood around other games, but not to the extent that Harrier machine attracted when it first went in.

    The home conversions were a bit of a let down which was to be expected. Your humble Z80 or 6502 couldn't really replicate a dual 68000 setup with custom graphics hardware.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up

      Re: Southsea Arcade

      Damn, you and I must have been wasting (erm, spending) money on the game around the same time because I was one of those people standing around in Clarence Pier waiting for my turn!

      I was never as good, though, as my friend Raf (tall, dark curly hair) who would casually sit there, can of Quattro in one hand, joystick in the other, blasting his way through the entire game :-/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Southsea Arcade

        That was a very good arcade. Had practically everything you'd ever need in the mid to late 80's.

        Went back a couple of years ago and its now just rows of slot machines, grabbers and coin pushers with a sorry looking Crazy Taxi cab right at the back.

        1. Captain Scarlet

          Re: Southsea Arcade

          So are nearly all arcades, the past few years when I have got to the beach thought I wonder what arcade machines they have now and its quite depressing :(

          Ended up getting sunburn instead

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Southsea Arcade

            El Reg outing to the arcade museam at Funspot anyone?


          2. DaneB

            Re: Southsea Arcade

            Because they're new and rubbish? Or old and not as good as you remember?

      2. Michael Xion

        Re: Southsea Arcade

        Ha, ha.. Good old 'Slots of Fun' at the Clarence Parade Pier. I was a 'Floorwalker' there in 1987 (9am - 11pm, mon to sat for £90 per week). .The job basically involved keeping an eye on the punters to make sure they didn't bump the money drop machines or shove wadded paper in the payout slots of the one arm bandits to later come and collect the winnings. Punch ups on Friday nights between opposing football fans were a semi-refular occurrence and most of the staff were pretty dodgy too. The space harrier cabinet had pride of place right at the front of the arcade and was pretty much the only decent game in there.

        1. DaneB

          Re: Southsea Arcade

          And the procedure if a machine got bumped? I remember setting the alarms off, brilliant!

      3. DaneB

        Re: Southsea Arcade

        Quattro power, invented by dentists for extra business.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Southsea Arcade

      Yep, I played it in Southsea as well. Always a fun day out, coming from Fareham.

      I had a copy on my Amiga, which ISTR wasn't too bad. But I never managed to get very far.

      Time Pilot was my specialty, from college, I could make 10p last over an hour! I could clock it on a regular basis, although the plastic ball on top of the joystick was missing, so you usually ended up with bloody fingers after a long game, until the skin hardened into callouses.

    3. DaneB
      Thumb Up

      Re: Southsea Arcade

      The disappointment of home conversions was like hell in those days!

      Damn these modern kids and their Playstation 4 ways!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Southsea Arcade

        The only way you can describe arcades at that time to kids today is if you tell them imagine seeing games of a quality you might only get at home in 5 or more years time. In short like telling a kid who has just got a PS4 that they could go and play PS5 games today.

        The problem was the arcade manufacturers didn't innovate enough and home technology also caught up. By the time you get to the Dreamcast era you can play a nearly perfect version of Crazy Taxi at home.

  2. PaulyV

    This was a very addictive game at the time, likely for me because of what felt like the breakneck speed at which you had to play it. Oddly enough if you asked me to recall the game I don't think I would have raised the cabinet, although this has jogged my memory, thank you.

    It was an extremely hypnotising experience when the long end of level bosses made their respective appearances. Good work Sega - I don't regret a single coin that went into this machine.

  3. Andus McCoatover

    Angry birds 8-bit...

    Now that's what I'm talking about!

  4. Graham Marsden

    "It’s hard to comprehend...

    "...why so much love is still felt for this half-baked (by today’s standards) shooter."

    Because it was *FUN*!!!

    A game that ran at an almost insane speed, which required lots of concentration, a chair you sat in that *moved*, great (for their time) graphics, what is there not to love?!

    “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone, get ready!”

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

      It's hard to understate just how mind blowing seeing those graphics moving at that speed was at the time. It wasn't just that it was way ahead of home systems, it was way ahead of everything else in the arcade as well.

      It's also easy to forget about the pumping soundtrack with speech that encouraged you ('You're doing great!").

      1. Tom_

        Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

        It's even harder to overstate it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

          Doh! :-)

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon
      Thumb Up

      Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

      "which required lots of concentration"

      I think it was this, along with my undiagnosed adhd that makes this game a partcularly fond memory for me.

      Me and a mate went off to Gt. Yarmouth and found this game in one of the arcades. My mate had a go and got mullered fairly quickly, so I sat down for my turn.

      I suddenly went into hyperfocus* mode, and pretty nearly completed the game on my first sitting, barely noticed being thrown around like a rag-doll from wanging the joystick around like a mentalist :)

      When I looked up in a foggy 'just come round from an operation' kind of daze, I discovered about 40 people crowded round the cabinet and my mate's jaw on the flaw...effing awesome.

      Thanks for the reminder!

      *This also served me particularly well on Robotron - which was like meditating for me.

      1. DaneB

        Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

        Crowds around gamers on arcade games. Does that happen these days?

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

      Better than the Xander Zone! :-P

      1. DaneB

        Re: "It’s hard to comprehend...

        Xander zone???

  5. WraithCadmus

    Atari Discovery Pack

    I had the Atari ST port which did a reasonable job up until level 4, where frame rate issues meant you had no real chance. Put a lot of hours into it, but the same pack's version of Bomb Jack was a bit more polished.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Atari Discovery Pack

      Having played the arcade version I was less than impressed with the ST version my mate had. The mouse felt wrong and the loading between levels was interminable. He seemed to like it though.

      The same pack had a terrible port of Outrun which he also liked thus confirming he had no taste in games.

      1. WraithCadmus

        Re: Atari Discovery Pack

        True, but as a callow youth it was a choice between a poor port or none at all.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Atari Discovery Pack

      Ah. Bombjack, I lost hours playing that!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Home versions

    Space Harrier ended up being ported to anything and everything. Here's a few unusual versions:

    The Sharp MZ-700 (a machine that only does text not graphics) -

    The NEC PC6001 -

    The NEC PC8001 -

    The rather splendid NEW Atari XL version -

    I've played the XL version and can confirm it's rather splendid.

    Note the NEC PC's are not PC we think of them today but are Z80 based machines.

    1. Captain Scarlet

      Re: Home versions

      Gamesack on Youtube has actually reviewed Space Harrier on a lot different systems (More recently on a Sharp X68000) although across lots of reviews. Its amazing how much power games of the day in the arcade actually required and console and PC gaming can't recapture it (Although probably cheaper in the long run).

  7. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Intergral part of my childhood

    Space Harrier was probably my all-time favourite arcade game - many hours spent trying to navigate the break-neck "fast dodge" levels (4 and 11, think there was one more but never made it that far). Often imitated, never equaled.

    I'd pay good money to see a decent mobile remake of this - tilt to move, tap to shoot, relentless and unforgiving.

  8. Fading

    Given the anniversary last week...

    The Amstrad CPC 464 version......

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Given the anniversary last week...

      Once you get over the vector graphics, it's not bad. It captures the speed of the arcade combined with a decent soundtrack. But as I say you need to get over the vector graphics first which not everyone can.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Given the anniversary last week...

        Either bad programming or the machine wasn't up to it.

        Z80 effectively running at 3.3Mhz instead of 4.0 due to the RAM slowing it down.

        Of course some of the ports were done with minimal optimisation for the platform. The Amiga suffered almost straight ST ports at times, which is bad given the Amiga 500 ran at 7.14Mhz to be compatible with video timing (genlocking etc).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Given the anniversary last week...

          Software publishers at the time were often sausage factories with hard pressed coders having to put out games under impossible deadlines. You might if you were lucky have a coder, a graphics guy and a sound guy but that was pretty much it.

          To try and re-create Space Harrier on any of the 3 main 8 bits was impossible. The Spectrum and CPC versions have a fair crack at it. The C64 version is a total disaster.

          Frankly I wouldn't touch any of the home versions of Harrierand instead use MAME. But back in 1987 when the home conversions came out they were the best we could hope for.

          Unlike something like Speccy Rainbow Island which I still adore to this day!

          I hold special contempt for Space Harrier 2 on the Sega Megadrive. The Megadrive should be capable of something better but it's just utter rubbish with palid music and crap baddies. Despise it.

  9. Slacker@work


    Dear gods! was it really that long ago?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 1985???

      It was but IIRC it didn't start to hit the arcades in the UK until mid to late '86.

  10. hardboiledphil


    I remember playing this in an arcade at Butlins Skegness many moons ago. I think it was the speed of if that just made it head and shoulders of anything else at the time.

    The only other arcade game I have such strong memories of was TX1 - the three screen "Pole Position". Still the only arcade game I ever finished. I think I sunk a whole £10 of pocket money into this one family holiday, completing it with 40p left.

  11. Shrimpling


    I've been eyeing up the new 3D version available on the Nintendo eStore for a few weeks trying to decide if it is worth buying...

    Has anybody played this version yet and is it worth it?

  12. Bottle_Cap

    Awesome game, the ports weren't great but didn't matter. was an Atari 8 bit version made a year or so ago that was a decent effort though. :-)

  13. jason 7

    The game was kind of daft...

    ...but the chair, the sound and the fact compared to a lot of games from that period it wasn't that hard to play it to get your 20p's worth.

    I used to enjoy playing the Spectrum version at home while listening to The Police Greatest Hits for some reason. Spirits in the Material World worked well I recall.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank you for rekindling the memories

    Of taking the bus into Edinburgh from Riccarton on a Saturday morning. Hopping off at the end of Princes Street and up Lothian Road and into the arcade. Some frenetic minutes on Space Harrier, Strategic Defense Initiative (oh, those penguins), and Outrun before off to Virgin Megastore, Sci-fi bookshop etc.

  15. Joefish

    Hydraulics my baulics ;-)

    These cabinets used electric motor driven screw jacks to move, not hydraulics. Hydraulic fluid is too nasty a thing to leave to amateurs to maintain. Here's a look at the guts of one of these awesome beasties:

    And go find the comments on the Reg review of OutRun, as the chequered floor effect is done using the same renderer as the roads in OutRun and HangOn.

    P.S. Greatest arcade game ever. Yes, we can look back at the 8-bit conversions and laugh at the compromises each version made (Keith Burkhill is a God!) but it just shows up how mind-blowing it was as an arcade machine compared to home computer technology of the time. Standout conversion for me has to be GBA running on a GameBoy Micro - the ultimate in portable entertainment. Imagine having your mind blown by Space Harrier arcade, then someone showing you it running on something the size of a cheap gamepad!

    But yes, 3DS Space Harrier 3D - so long as you've got a DS XL - looks fantastic and plays brilliantly.

    P.P.S. - What, no-one went to Mablethorpe?

    1. PaulyV

      Re: Hydraulics my baulics ;-)

      I was regularly at Mablethorpe but was more likely to be found hanging around the Space Ace machine by the entrance to Bingoland, for my sins. I can still remember the overwhelming cigarette smell around that game.

      1. MrT

        The Harrier universe...

        ...looked like it had been mown by my dad and his Suffolk Swift push-along roller-mower.

        Mablethorpe - last time I was there was when 'For Your Eyes Only' played at the cinema, which still had the Wurlitzer rise up in front of the screen before the main show... Brilliant beach, amazing dunes, RAF Tornado jets at low level to the bombing range further north...

    2. Tom 13

      Re: P.S. Greatest arcade game ever.

      I have trouble picking out the greatest one ever. I played a bunch of them and to me, they were all great.

      It was usually difficult for me to get on the Space Harrier cabinet. Neither of the arcades in my college town went in much for the console rigs: too much lost floor space. I fondly remember dieing entirely too quickly whenever I played Robotron. Defender was great as was Time Machine. I was probably best at either Galaxian or Mario Brothers at the time (turtles and the two bouncing balls on the tri-level metal frame). They were the machines located in the dining hall and each got a quarter each night after dinner. Oddly enough my favorite game in the arcade was a pinball machine with a potential for 5 ball multi-play. It was some space race type theme. You would lock up to five balls and then drop a set of targets to launch them all. It had a continuously increasing score multiplier (I think it maxed out at 20 and I never got past 10). Wish I could remember the name of it.

      Of course, I'm one of those weirdos who also loved 'Beserk!' - Come back and fight like a robot.

  16. xperroni

    Master System 3D port

    I remember playing the Master System port, goggles and all, and I loved it. In fact, after all these years I've never been so thrilled as when I first played a Master System 3D game, though I accept this is not a widely accepted account.

  17. Havin_it

    "Presumably eco-awareness hadn’t really kicked in yet, not in Japan anyway."

    Uh, has that actually happened yet then?

  18. Mark York 3 Silver badge

    1986 Memories

    Of going around Hyde Park Corner leaning out of a taxi...chatting to two asian ladies in a convertable....The car went one way, the taxi another & we went into a casino (or somewhere) where I first clapped eyes on it. Played it until we left......

    2-3 months later PCW show in a exhibitors stall on the upper balcony right above the Sega stand, a whole suite of the machines, the incessant music, sound effects & out hero's screams for 6 IIRC whole days totally killed my desire.

    Did play it the other month on MAME though.

  19. Stevie Silver badge


    I can't remember if the title is "Space Harrier" but Nintendo released this game on the NES in 3D too. I could never see the 3D properly even after diddling with the color balance on my TV. In 2D it was boring with a capital bore.

    I have a copy of it somewhere, mint in box as it were.

    1. Joefish

      Re: Bah!

      '3D World Runner' on the NES. Although it looked similar, it was quite a different game. Very much slower and quite tedious. You ran along the ground and could jump gaps and shoot ground-level enemies. You only got to free-fly in boss fights, which used sprites to render some sub-par titchy versions of the Space Harrier dragons. The 3D was red/cyan rather than the full-colour (but flickery) shutter glasses of the Master System.

  20. Wanting more

    Blackpool for me.

    I remember playing this all afternoon in an arcade in blackpool on a school trip circa 1987. I pretty sure I had the C64 version at the time and was blown away by the arcade machine. I assumed it was hydraulics moving things about not motors, was certainly very effective.

    More like this please Reg.

  21. DaneB

    SPace Harrier new?

    Remake version with Kinect style control… or sumting?

  22. Joefish

    A home port of Planet Harriers would be nice.

    About the closest you can get is Sin & Punishment 1 & 2.

  23. Jim 59

    Never played SH, but it reminds me of Quartet, another Sega release around the same time. Bit less fashionable but great multiplayer game. Music was catchy, by the same chap I think.

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