Space Harrier is a sprite-scaling 3D shoot-em-up set in the ‘Fantasy Zone’; a surreal world composed of abstract structures and a checkerboard landscape. The game’s enemies are as abstract as its setting; with creatures including prehistoric Mammoths, alien pods, giant mushrooms and, at the end of most stages, a huge, fireball-spitting Chinese Dragon.
The player’s on-screen counterpart carries a portable jetpack under his arm which allows him to fly. The player can also run along the ground to avoid overhead structures and enemies.
In addition to its flight capability, the jetpack is also equipped with a laser, used to destroy both the game’s many enemies as well as some (but not all) obstructions, such as the trees and floating rocks on the first stage.
Space Harrier has a total of 18 stages, each with a boss fight at the end. Three exceptions are the bonus stages (5th and 12th) and the 18th stage, which is a ‘boss rush’ featuring some of the bosses encountered up to that point.