You don’t need to count your quarters in order to enjoy these renditions of Space Harrier and Puyo Puyo!
Growing up in Puerto Rico, arcades were pretty scarce, with only a few real options available to me when I was a kid. Sadly, none of them ever really carried the great Sega arcade games like Out Run, Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, and the like. In fact, before I moved from Puerto Rico to the United States, the only Sega game I got to experience in arcades was Virtua Fighter! I’ve always loved arcades, and was even more heartbroken to realize that the heyday of arcades was long past by the time I was able to go out on my own as an adult.
While there are certainly many great places today to find arcades, from retro-revival places to big arcades like Round1 and Dave and Busters, it’s still hard to find a place to play those great games from years ago and experience them in their former glory. Well, for Sega fans at least, the SEGA AGES line is here to try and save the day; while these games don’t come with their own unique arcade cabinets or that sultry allure of arcade atmosphere, they are quite affordable and portable. We were graciously given copies of both Space Harrier and Puyo Puyo for the Switch to review by the fine folks at Sega, so let’s get down to whether or not these titles are worth your combined quarters or not!
One of the first things that needs to be addressed when it comes to reviewing revamped or re-released arcade game ports, however, is the fact that arcade games were generally made with one goal in mind: separating you from your quarters. To this end, arcade games were generally pretty difficult, and sometimes cheap and unfair as the difficulty would ramp up or spike in order to keep you inserting your (or your parents!) hard earned coins in the hopes of getting just a bit further, or just a bit closer to getting your three initials into the hi-score rankings!
In a lot of cases, this means that when revisiting arcade games without the limit of time and money in play, a lot of earlier games tend to fall noticeably flatter; when they aren’t entirely centered around score and money, some games reveal themselves to have little else to offer but nostalgia. It may even be fair to say that much of the attitude around gaming being a skill based hobby, in which one’s supposed level in a hobby based around amusement is how “good” you are at games, probably originates from simply justifying how much money many players threw into arcade machines over the years. So how do the SEGA AGES versions of Space Harrier and Puyo Puyo deal with this legacy? Well… it’s complicated.
On the surface, both of these games are pretty barebones, with Puyo Puyo have the added benefit of online multiplayer to give it quite a bit of extra life and longevity to play. In a previous review of another Puyo Puyo game, I mentioned how the recent energy surrounding the online and competitive Puyo Puyo scenes have really helped breathe life into the series again between Puyo Puyo Champions and Puyo Puyo Tetris. In the SEGA AGES version of the original game, the online mode again gives you the ability to try your luck against online opponents, and you can also play the game locally against your friends and foes offline. The Switch is great for this, since the ease of multiplayer anywhere allows you to throw down in some Puyo battles pretty easily. As a single player experience, you’ll find yourself fighting increasingly difficult stages of the original arcade version of the game, and to be honest the CPU doesn’t mess around! I was actually caught off guard at first by how difficult the CPU was at times before reminding myself that getting you to use more continues was part of the arcade game lifecycle.
For the unfamiliar, the Puyo Puyo series is a VS. Puzzle game in which you make attacks against your opponent by clearing various colored puyos from your side of the screen; however, unlike a game such as Tetris where the goal is to simply clear the board, the Puyo Puyo series has always relied on building chain combos to do the most damage. This unique take on puzzle combat means that your decisions need to be long term, rather than simply worrying about clearing the board, and a single wrong move can cost you dearly. You have the ability to choose between a simplified or original version of the game that changes how many colors of puyos you’ll need to deal with, meaning if you’re totally new to the game (or, apparently, rusty like I was!) you can ease yourself into the game by switching between how many color combinations you’ll need to keep track of.
That said, there really isn’t a whole lot to do in Puyo Puyo other than that. You can play online, you can play your friends, and you can play against the CPU in the absolutely bonkers single player mode (if anything, buying this game just to see the very weird dialogue is maybe worth the price of admission alone), but right now the market for Puyo Puyo series titles is actually quite crowded. If you’re looking to scratch that retro-puzzle itch, then this version will likely give you some good entertainment, but sadly a lot of the value of this game will rest on whether or not you will find online opponents (always a crapshoot to predict), or have local opponents to play against… and that you also don’t want to just play either of the other 2 more modern versions of Puyo Puyo.
For those who like to recreate that sense of nostalgia or emulate the games you only played a few times in arcades and movie theater lobbies, however, this is a fairly strict arcade to console port with little loss of sound quality, with the charming digitized voices and soundtrack intact, and the graphics, while not outstanding, look as bright and colorful as they likely ever have. The controls on the Switch are also spot-on, and there are a few gameplay tweaks made to the game for some slight quality of life improvements, such as the ability to spin Puyos counterclockwise, and the ability to quickly spin Puyos right before placing them for some Tetris T-spin-esque antics. For my money, I’d guess these changes were made to fall more in line with how modern Puyo players likely understand the game, and I did appreciate them while I played the game, as I would probably have found myself utterly confused by why I couldn’t do what I’m used to!
Of the two, Space Harrier may be the less familiar title to many players, and some of you probably played this game in other Sega game collections or games like Shenmue or Yakuza 0 than in the arcades themselves; that’s how I ended up encountering it first before finding an original cabinet during an arcade trip! Taking place in the “Fantasy Zone”, Space Harrier is a behind the back shooting game that takes place on an auto-scrolling plane, giving off a pseudo-3D vibe. Perhaps one of the main reasons Space Harrier has always been so fondly remembered is due to the unique visuals and fun, fast shooter action, and the SEGA AGES version really helps make that visual appeal shine.
While Puyo Puyo doesn’t really have a lot of moving parts, so to speak, Space Harrier really shows off some of the amazing emulation qualities that the SEGA AGES renditions have taken advantage of, with the game running in an amazingly smooth 60fps just like its original arcade incarnation. The game looks absolutely fantastic and feels like you’ve been transported right back in front of that gorgeous cab, although you’ll have to recreate the leaning chair sensation yourself (don’t do this, please play responsibly!). Compared to versions I’ve played emulated in other games like Yakuza 0, I’m actually shocked by how much smoother this version of Space Harrier looks and plays compared to those; by far this is one of the games that has really been served best by the framerate being able to match its original arcade incarnation.
Like Puyo Puyo, however, there really isn’t much here other than just playing Space Harrier. The game never featured a multiplayer mode, and there’s no real online component other than score uploads. That said, you do get two ways to play in this version: regular, which gives you a limited 3-continue run to defeat the challenging 18 stages of the game, and the new KOMAINU Barrier Attack mode, which not only gives you unlimited continues, but also provides you with 2 komainu buddies (komainu are lion-dogs that appear in pairs near shrines and other Japanese locations as guardians) that protect you from one of the most common Space Harrier deaths: collisions with objects. One of the downsides of the auto-scrolling action madness in the game is the fact that sometimes you’re so busy dodging bullets and trying to plan your shots that you forgot all about that tree, and… Game Over. Here, your Komainu friends will protect you from collision deaths, only going offline if they are shot, and shortly recharging the barrier after a small amount of time has passed.
There are also some small text blurbs that add a bit of flavor and character to the overall game, which I found to be kind of charming and cute (they are also really supportive of you, which is nice after you die three times in a row…) but not really a huge addition in any way. The biggest addition to Space Harrier is a rapid fire button, which helps make the need to predict and aim after troublesome enemies less of a hassle, and is available in both versions of the game available to play, making the regular mode just a bit smoother in terms of playing through it on 3 continues by alleviating some of the difficulty against particularly annoying enemies and patterns.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with both SEGA AGES titles, but I will admit that they are exactly what they say on the box and little else. If you’ve always been curious to try these games, or are simply a fan of older arcade games, then the $7.99 US price-tag per game is a pretty easy selling point, and you’ll certainly get your money’s worth even if you only play through the games a few times. Of the two titles, Space Harrier really impressed me with how gorgeous it looks in motion on the Switch, and the KOMAINU mode really does make the game more approachable and inviting. Puyo Puyo is no slouch, though, and while it doesn’t have the graphic pizzaz to take advantage of the framerate and smooth quality, the online and offline multiplayer give you and some friends the ability to duke it out in some retro puzzle glory. Either way, if you’re itching to get some arcade action in while on the go, in your bed, or anywhere you might play your Switch, then the SEGA AGES line seems like the perfect way to scratch that itch and get some solid play time in!
+ Arcade perfect ports, especially in the case of Space Harrier.
+ Controls on the Switch are great, and in some cases improved from their original arcade incarnations.
+ KOMAINU mode in Space Harrier makes the game less frustrating to beat.
+ Puyo Puyo’s online mode gives some extra life to the game.
+/- Games have little to offer other than their stated modes; don’t expect more than that.
- Puyo Puyo suffers from having 2 newer and more robust versions available, making this an odd choice.
Do you have any fond arcade memories? What’s your favorite Sega game? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments!
Nicole is a features writer and editor for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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