Retro Review: Task Force Harrier EX

Defcon 2 is declared in the United States after a group of radical communists comes out of hiding and begins leveling the country.  All that keeps the good citizens of America from eating pirozhki the rest of their lives is you and your jet.  Welcome to the war soldier, as you’ve just been drafted into Task Force Harrier EX, developed and published by Treco for the Sega Genesis.  This vertical scrolling shooter is a perfect introduction for people looking to get into shumps.

Interested?  Find out how lovely this game is after the jump.

This shmup can be quite forgiving at times.  Enemy ships shoot two types of projectiles; smoke streamed missiles and bright orange bullets.  The missiles can be shot of the air.  You only have to make sure you don’t strafe into a missile because they aren’t too much of a threat head on.  Bullets are a much more immediate threat. They can only be destroyed by a super bomb. Their bright hue won’t help you much because they’re fairly small and can be hidden by enemy ships or blend in to a lighter patches of ground.

Enemy ships vary in strength, most are able to be toppled in one or two hits with some being able to withstand a good deal of punishment.  The hardest parts are when one or two tank ships are supported by an onslaught of weaker ships or ground turrets, making the player choose which threat to concentrate on eliminating first while having to dodge the other.

Your ship has a variety of attacks.  First is your main ships attack.  This is a spray of bullets that can be repeatedly upgraded throughout the levels. Second are the bombs your ship drops.  This is separate from super bombs, falling to the ground with each shot you take.  Three types of explosions are available to find along play through; vertical strip, horizontal strip, or a circular blast similar to a miniature nuclear bomb.  These are all separately stackable.  For example, if you collect two circular bombs upgrades (denoted by the number 3 in the game), you will have two explosions detonate below you.  But if you grab a different type of bomb, there goes your previous collection.  You’ll have to choose which type you like early on and have to stick with it.  The same system is in place for your helper ships, so you’ll have to decide between rockets, lasers, and homing missiles as well.

Formations are the most important part of strategy when playing.  Formations are basically where your little helper ships are positioned.  They can be to your sides, behind you, in front of you, and nearly to the extreme corners of the screen.  The two positions I used the most were in front, because sometimes they can block bullets and make for one powerful stream of fire, and to distant sides, as this helps deal with the myriad attacks by less powerful ships.

Graphics are sprite-based colorful beauties.  The ships vary in looks and size enough so you can get a decent feel for what shoots what, which ones are major threats, and how certain enemies will maneuver around the screen.  They all blow up in enjoyable orange bursts.  The lands you fly over are quite stunning.  Ranging from an iceberg-laden ocean to rural farmlands, they make each level feel original without distracting too much from the task of aerobatic survival.  Cut scenes are simplistic but get the job done.  Anime-style generals give you marching orders with a wink and a wave as ship you off onto the next mission.

Sound design helps guide the game into the safe territory of being fun yet unrelenting.  Shots from enemy ships sound different from yours, so when your focused on one part of the screen, you can tell if something else will be flying at you shortly.  The music is classic Sega-style rock, perfect for a shooter.  Each level has a separate tune, complimenting the fresh experience with an appropriately crisp soundtrack.

There are a few differences between the difficulty modes that will separate novices (myself) from the shmup veterans.  First is enemies take a few more hits to destroy.  While not initially something that jumps out at you, on later levels when swarms of fighters circle you, it will become apparent. Second, you are given less super bombs to use.  Super bombs are replenished every time you are killed; so do not be stingy with them in a tight situation, especially since they destroy most enemies, missiles, and bullets.  Lessening your amount of bombs makes your survival rate plummet.  Lastly is that enemy ships shoot more.  More missiles and bullets headed your way make for a more evasion based game play experience than the run and gun you can get away with on easier modes.  The almost casual affair of easy mode is forgotten once you enter the hard stages.  While not nearly as catastrophically painful as Ikaruga, nails would be chewed off if your hands weren’t glued to the controller.  Some of the more skillful players may complain that this game give you too much time to breath at points, but as a twitchy gamer who consistently needs to rub his eye or take a quick drink or water, the short breaks were relieving and necessary without having to pause the game.  That beautiful ease is only thing keeping this game from being a perfect shooter.

This game is perfect to pick up if you’re a novice shump player.  While advanced gamers might be able to breeze through, they’ll still be able to enjoy the power up system, the graphics, and the soundtrack.

Task Force Harrier EX soars through the skies with a B+.

Readers Comments (2)

  1. Never heard of this game before. I guess you could call me a novice shmup player but I tend to sway towards the more difficult shooters. This sounds like a nice playthrough though.

  2. I’ll look this up. I’ve been searching for some shmups to play, particularly on Sega consoles.

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