Back when the Sega Genesis arrived in North America in the late '80s, it promised arcade-quality graphics and gameplay that were a big step up from anything that video game consoles had offered to date. These promises only turned out to be half true; even though Genesis games looked substantially better than what you could get on, say, the Nintendo Entertainment System, they typically weren't as impressive as their video arcade counterparts. Take Space Harrier II, for instance. Developed for the Sega Genesis, this sequel to Sega's then-stunning 1985 arcade classic offered more of the same style of simple, behind-the-back shooting action that made for an intense and challenging experience. However, Space Harrier II's presentation wasn't as good as the arcade original's, and it didn't offer anything new gameplaywise to make up for it. Now available on the Wii's Virtual Console service, Space Harrier II is valuable only to those nostalgic for this game or those looking to unearth what's more or less a footnote in the history of shoot-'em-ups.
Space Harrier II plays just like the original, so you reprise the role of a dude who can inexplicably fly and carries a large gun capable of firing powerful bursts of energy. The object is to blast your way through well over a dozen different stages, each one taking place on a gridlike battlefield that constantly rushes toward you very quickly as droves of enemies and other obstacles get in your way. Even though the original Space Harrier established the third-person, behind-the-back perspective used in the sequel, not many other games borrowed this vantage point, which means Space Harrier II still has a distinctive look. However, the gameplay is similar to that of any other shoot-'em-up, and it's even simpler than most because there are no power-ups to collect and really nothing to do besides fly around onscreen, attempting to avoid enemies and their shots. This is basic, reflex-driven action, and the reason it doesn't hold up better is because the game runs at a rather choppy frame rate. The Virtual Console version of Space Harrier II appears to emulate the Genesis game perfectly, so the technical shortcomings are true to the original release.
The game controls just fine with the Wii Remote, since all you need is the D pad and one fire button. Space Harrier II does have a bit of variety to it, as each level has slightly different visuals and unique enemy patterns, and you get to choose your starting stage. Some stages also drop a gridlike roof on top of you, which is essentially a warning that you're in for a particularly tough obstacle course-style level that puts a greater emphasis on not running into things than on shooting things down--levels that will probably make you wonder why you can't slow down. The pulsing gridlike floors and ceilings still look pretty impressive and give a good sense of speed, though the various enemy ships and creatures in Space Harrier II were never as memorable as those of the first game. There are some nice pieces of music on the soundtrack, and one of the cleanest digital speech samples the Genesis ever got when the game says "get ready" after you lose a life. Too bad the scream your character makes when he takes a hit makes him sound like a total wuss.
Space Harrier II has all the same ingredients as its predecessor, but unlike the original, it's not an undisputed classic. It's mostly just an average old shoot-'em-up, so for 800 Wii Points ($8), you could do better. Just goes to show that cash-in sequels are nothing new to gaming.