When Space Harrier was originally made for Arcades Yu Suzuki (i.e. The Shenmue guy) was told not to bother, nobody was interested in that. 2D was the way. He agreed to scarifies his salary if it failed.
As we know now, it didn't. It was widely successful spawning sequels, clones and ports across the board. Going to influence other creators as well as help lay the fundamentals for the first third person shooters, as well as on-the rails shooting.
But is it a good game? Well, it's sad to say the Master System has major problems.
Even when making the arcade version on much more powerful hardware, it was originally conceived as a different game, a jet fighting shooting. But constraints of rendering more three-dimensional objects caused them to change the nature of the game entirely, into arguably, something far more creative.
The Master System version, which Yu Suzuki wasn't involved with, runs admirably, though still sluggish but it's main problem lies in it's presentation.
Compared the the arcade version, the backdrop has been removed completely. Sprites, rather than properly silhouetted against an opposing backdrop, are largely square tiles with objects painted on against equally similar tiles. Not only that, they constantly flicker, overlapping into a garbled mess.
What this means, is that the oncoming enemies, the prime mechanic of the game, become almost indistinguishable from the background and almost impossible to accurately measure distance. The game for all intents and purposes, becomes guess work.
The player can flail around and hope not to get shot, but ultimately they will. Instead of learning a set of patterns to overcome bosses it remains a dice roll, hoping, rather than countering.
Bosses, of which the game has at least 16, operate almost entirely the same, move in close, move to a distance and fire - aesthetically diverse as they may be, this doesn't overwrite bland gameplay.
Visually, this is about as creative throw-it-in-the-soup you can play. Yu Suzuki takes inspiration from several sources, even going as far as add Easter Island heads, because a designer "had a big head".
One eyed mammoths, pink dragons, Space Invaders, mechs, bio-organic spaceships, humanoids, cat heads - all this against a chess board of a fluctuating rainbow of vibrancy makes for a incredibly unique experience unlike anything else 25+ years on. Even with the visual oddities and imposed limitations, this creativity unyieldingly bursts forward,
Music, was handled by Hiroshi Kawaguchi who worked on many Sega tracks. It's simple, optimistic music is catchy, pleasing and melds well with the drug fueled visuals.
Space Harrier is a surprisingly long game for it's time, a solid 1 hour at least using the save ability. This may not sound like much now, but back then many Master System titles could be finished in under 30 minutes, Golden Axe in 15.
I wouldn't recommend this version of Space Harrier, it's a impressive display of what the Master System could do, but in practice not enough to stop colossal hobbling gameplay itself.
The arcade version was released for the 32X, powerful hardware that could accommodate the gameplay - it's would be wiser to seek that out.