Review – After Burner Climax
Sega shoots their bolt at mach speed.
They may have performed miracles during the Dreamcast era, but I’ve never really cared much for Sega. I couldn’t get on with Sonic The Hedgehog at all, marginally preferring the sedate pace of Mario (although not by much as cutesy 16-bit platformers invariably get on my tits), and their arcade output seemed to be more about the cabinets than the actual games.
Take the supposed golden generation of Sega games from Yu Suzuki. Out Run was probably the best of them but if you take out the sunny scenery and Magical Sound Shower you’re left with a stuffy, clumsy racing game. Space Harrier is the same, all visual shock and awe but in reality a fairly irritating and awkward shooter. You could say the same for most of Suzuki’s output of the mid ’80s and After Burner for me was the worst example of Sega’s excesses.
Housed in a huge, hydraulic cabinet, After Burner looked monstrous when stood next to the Arkanoids and Kung Fu Masters of the day. The game was a combat flight game with all of the fuss and technicalities taken out. You flew forward, you shot things and you locked-on for missile strikes. The 3D visuals (remember, this was still in the 2D heyday) raced along at breakneck speeds while enemy bogeys were thrown at you as fast as the inbuilt RAM could muster. Much like Space Harrier, After Burner could turn heads but when it came to the gameplay it detractors would say it was full of unfair and unavoidable deaths and that there was just too much happening on-screen at any time.
Coming some twenty years later in 2006, After Burner Climax hit the arcades and continued the tradition of looking particularly fancy. Now we have the XBLA port which, stripped of its hydraulics and flight-stick controls, needs to have a lot more to give than speed and good looks.
Initial impressions were bleak. The game plays like a super-fast, hard to control Rez. Now given that I’ve recently put a lot of time into Rez, it was easy to make comparisons and, unfortunately for After Burner Climax, Rez comes out on top in every category but a few goes later and Climax began to click.
The game is set across fourteen stages (sixteen if you complete various objectives to unlock the A ending) which all play out the same way: you fly forward at Mach speed beleventy whilst attempting to lock-on to planes speeding in the opposite direction. As with Rez, the enemy planes aren’t much of a problem but some of them will launch missiles to try and mess with your day and this is where all your lives will go. Well there and on the sides of various canyons in some of the lower-flying levels.
You have two weapons, a standard machine-gun â€“ as ever in this genre they’re not really much of a help â€“ and a small supply of regenerating rockets. Ahead of your plane is a small cursor that you need to paint your enemies with in order to launch off your rockets. The plane and the cursor move as one though meaning you need to strike a balance between offense and survival.
After a short period you will be able to access the titular ‘Climax’ feature of the game which slows down time and grants you a bigger lock-on cursor as well as infinte rockets to spam the enemy hordes with. It doesn’t last long but thankfully the cool-down period isn’t too long either.
Although the original After Burner and Space Harrier had similar, simple gameplay styles, I’d always take the fantasy setting of Space Harrier every time, while poor old After Burner was quickly forgotten about.
However, Sega have given the game an Out Run style makeover, bringing After Burner up-to-date with some stunning landscapes and varied settings to hurtle through, but also freshening up the gameplay with some tense tunnel sequences. Thankfully the game mechanics haven’t been tinkered with too much – the main addition being the ‘bullet time’ Climax mode adding a little combo-chasing to the mix.
As with Out Run 2, Sega have pushed all the right buttons – it’s a modern game but retaining the arcade feel. After all, you can finish the game in ten minutes, so perfect for the ‘one more go’ factor.
One let down for me would be Sega’s new music for the game, with their standard guitar-heavy stuff, but thankfully you’re also able to select the far superior After Burner II soundtrack. Longevity may also be questionable for some as once you’ve completed the main game and unlocked the achievements, you’re left with Score Attack for a continued challenge.
Overall, it’s another must-have for any Sega nut who grew up playing these games. 800 points well spent. Now can we have Space Harrier next?
Secondary Score: 9/10
It’s simple, accessible and pretty exciting stuff but it’s not all good news. As with its predecessors, Climax is more than happy to obscure the screen and then throw globs of instant death at you. The game certainly offers plenty of ‘what hit me?’ moments and with smoke trails coming from your rockets, enemy missiles and downed planes, screen real-estate soon begins to disappear. However, Sega have rather wisely done their best to mitigate this with the EX Options mode.
Completing various tasks in the game (shooting numbers of enemies, getting combos, completing the game and reaching high-score totals) will unlock various options that can be used, consequence-free, in the main arcade mode. These range from adding more lives and credits to increasing your firepower, Climax recovery and cursor size.
With all the options turned on, the game becomes ridiculously easy so you might want to try to strike a balance or you can check out the Score Attack mode which gives you infinite lives but doesn’t allow for EX options and is the main source of leaderboard shenanigans in the game.
After Burner Climax certainly looks the part, with some varied and beautiful scenery zipping past beneath you. The soundtrack is the usual Sega generic extreme sports rock nonsense that has been plaguing the Virtua Tennis series recently but the After Burner II soundtrack can also be selected and, for my money, it’s a little less horrible.
Overall, After Burner Climax is nowhere near as slick and enjoyable as Sega’s Out Run 2 and is a little too unfair for its own good but, once you get your eye in, it can be a rewarding and exciting way to kill ten or so minutes.