Cover Image['Compilation Catalog' is a regular biweekly analysis of retro remakes and compilations old and new. This entry's subject is Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 20: Space Harrier II - Space Harrier Complete Collection, released in 2005 for the Playstation 2.]

The first iteration of Sega's current series of retro remakes weren't exactly warmly received. The results of a partnership with budget-development specialists D3 Publisher, the remakes produced by the joint publishing effort 3D AGES under the Sega Ages 2500 series ranged from somewhat presentable to downright ugly, with gameplay that was sometimes robust and enjoyable and other times absolutely reprehensible. In 2005, Sega rebooted Sega Ages 2500 with a new focus on faithful ports and emulations of classics coupled with presentation that represents the cream of the retro-compilation crop. One of the first franchises to receive the new treatment was Space Harrier, in Space Harrier II: Space Harrier Complete Collection.

Welcome to the Fantasy Zone

sharrier-01.jpgThe original Space Harrier has already received its own entry in the Sega Ages 2500 series (which can also be found in Sega Classics Collection), so in this volume, it's Space Harrier II (the Genesis sequel) that nominally has the limelight. But really, it's almost as if Sega's using Space Harrier II as a minor excuse to release a perfect port of the original Space Harrier on this particular collection, as an apology for the first, coolly-received remake. And perfect it is: it's just as fast and smooth as the original groundbreaking rail-shooter, with no glitches or inaccuracies in its conversion.

It's easy to see why the game is so well-loved to this day, with its blinding speed and classic tunes, and it holds up extremely well (even if you don't care for scaling sprites - shame on you!) And for only the second time ever, Space Harrier supports analog control. The original arcade game sported a full-sized aircraft-style joystick that allowed for precise control and aiming, but no console version of the game since - aside from the Sega Ages version that was released for the Saturn - has supported anything but digital D-pad controls. Here, Space Harrier supports the analog sticks present on the Dual Shock and Dual Shock 2 controllers, as well as two of Hori's USB flight sticks (break out your limited-edition copies of Ace Combat 5!).

Space Harrier SMS
Also accounted for here are the Sega Master System and Game Gear conversions of the arcade game. Both of these are as limited as you might imagine, given the 8-bit hardware they run on. Both struggle along valiantly at roughly half or quarter the speed of the original and are full of messily-converted graphics and sparse level layouts. have tunes that are pretty faithful to the original's soundtrack, though those in the Game Gear version sound a good deal fresher. To access the Game Gear version of the game, by the way, hold right on the D-pad while the cursor's on the version-select option in the game-select menu.

Get Ready

Space Harrier II
Space Harrier II, originally meant to display the young Genesis's muscle in comparison with arcade hardware of the time, doesn't hold up nearly as well today as its older brother. It carries forward Space Harrier's famous infinite horizon well enough, but as the Genesis had no built-in scaling hardware, all the scaling here is faked. Each of the game's objects was captured at several different levels of zoom and stored in ROM for display at given intervals, giving a mild - but very choppy - simulation of scaling.

Choppy as well is the Harrier's movements: moving him across the screen makes him jump between a set of fixed positions, instead of having him move smoothly as in the original game. All of this makes the game seem as if it's running at about fifteen frames per second or so. Naturally, this isn't the best state for any aspiring action game to be in, let alone the descendant of one as speedy as Space Harrier. That, coupled with the comparatively lackluster soundtrack and level designs, leave this one feeling fairly uninspired.

Ouch!

The third headlining title here is Space Harrier 3D, a Master System game that made use of a rather dodgy-looking pair of goggles that had lens-shutter mechanism that, coupled with a flickery game display, created a 3D effect. That potentially headache-inducing mechanism isn't available here (thankfully?), because it simply wouldn't make much sense to include it, given the current selection of 3D-compatible goggles for PS2. Rather, this version of Space Harrier 3D has a mode that uses the old red/blue 3D effect instead.

You'll have to break out the scissors and glue if you don't already have a pair of those cardboard goggles, though. Packaged in with the game is a little envelope that contains sheets of red and blue cellophane, along with a pattern and instructions for cutting out and assembling a pair of 3D glasses. Thankfully, for those of us who don't want to go through the trouble, there's an option to switch off the 3D mode entirely. (And it's worth noting that there's a hidden mode that replicates the original's flickering, as well as an option that lets you use the same glasses you'd use to view stereogram images. Just hold right on the control pad while on the "3D Type" option.)

Space Harrier 3DOf course, stripping away the gimmick leaves you with an original Space Harrier sequel that's not much more advanced than the original Master System Space Harrier. It's competent for the hardware, though, even if it's inherited the Genesis version's choppy player movement. And what's with the TIE Fighters? An extra bonus for fans of the US version, though, is emulated support for the FM-synthesis module that was only released for the Japanese Sega Mark III system. Anybody who's only heard the original Master System version's reedy tones will be in for a treat.

You're Doing Great

And since presentation is the name of the game here, no effort has been spared in making each version of each game present here as faithful as possible. The emulation (or conversion, whichever the case) is absolutely rock-solid in each case, and all of the original options and cheats for the old games are present. There's a gallery for each game with sound effects, music, and printed material included. The original Space Harrier has its promotional flyers, while the other games have their cover art and manuals - from both the Japanese and overseas versions of the games - scanned at a quality so crystal-clear and a resolution so huge that you can zoom in and read every word. Space Harrier's gallery also includes an expert superplay of the game, along with the option for the player to record and play back play sessions.

There's no lack of video options available: each game can be displayed in an interlaced and scaled mode, in progressive-scan, or pixel-perfect in its native resolution (termed '240p' here). This latter option is something that's missing from nearly every major retro-compilation that's released these days, and the lack of it leaves the vast majority of all those classics looking blurry, shimmery, and limp. Such is not the case here. And in the game's manual, there are interviews with and comments (all in Japanese, of course) from Japanese journalists and members of the original Space Harrier development team, including Yu Suzuki.

This package, along with the even-more-excellent Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box, represents the standard that all retro-compilations should be measured by. Even though there are "only" five games present here for your (roughly) $25, this package shows that care and respect for classics like Space Harrier and how they're presented can go a long way, even in the face of the ever-decreasing, technology-driven perceived value of games like these.

[Trevor Wilson is a web developer and amateur game developer who indulges his unhealthy obsession with obscure, strange, and unique video games over at his weblog, namako team.]