I always looked forward to our family summer holidays at the seaside. One of the big highlights for me was being let loose to go around the amusement arcades that litter most British coastal towns, as it was one of the only chances I got each year to see the latest arcade videogames, which in those days were soooo much better than anything you could play at home (at least graphically).
One year my jaw dropped immediately when I saw Sega’s Space Harrier. There was a big crowd around the machine and rightly so, as Space Harrier was certainly a game to behold, not just because of it’s then amazing graphics, but more because of the hydraulic chair that you had to sit in to play the game.
At the time those simulator rides where you sit in a capsule and get tipped about whilst watching a piece of video (usually of a rollercoaster or a high speed car chase) and Space Harrier was basically that kind of idea scaled down to accommodate just one person.
Once strapped into the game’s chair, you had a big aircraft style joystick between your knees to grab hold of. Pulling the stick unsurprisingly moved your on screen character (a cool looking dude in red shirt and blue trousers and armed with a huge gun that also somehow enabled him to fly) but it also tipped the chair you were sitting in up, down, left and right, thus putting you off your game in the process.
The game itself looked truly awesome too. The graphics were made from extremely large bitmapped images which the game scaled up and down to give the effect of the character flying into the screen. Giant rocks, robots and one eyed woolly mammoths came hurtling towards you, and all you had to do was line up your elliptical bullets with these foes to blast them out of the sky, whilst avoiding both them and their returning fire.
Impressive as all this was, the truly amazing bit was when the screen was filled with the end-of-level boss, a giant two headed dragon which snaked it’s way up, down and in and out of the screen. As you shot it in the head its body would gradually change colour until you had hit it enough and it burst into flames.
The game also sounded good, as the chair contained speakers placed right next to your head, so the music and the sampled speech declaring “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone, get ready!” came blasting through and almost deafened you from the shock of it the first time you played.
I remember watching other people playing for ages before I plucked up the courage to have a go myself, partly because I was wary of the moving chair, but also partly because I was afraid that I would be rubbish at the game itself. As it turned out I got through the first three levels before my credits expired, so I did OK, if not brilliantly.