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After Burner Review

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Developer: Tengen Publisher: Tengen
Release Date: 1989 Also On: Arcade, Master System

Well, first off, I’ve technically already reviewed this game (check it out under the Master System section), and second, this version is surprisingly better. Let me explain why I’m surprised. Tengen ported some Sega classics to the NES, much to the chagrin of Nintendo, and Shinobi was pretty rank, so I was expecting the worst. This was the first time I sat down to play their version of After Burner, and I must say, though at first I went in thinking ‘here we go suck time,’ I ended up having a lot of fun in the long run. I must say Tengen wasn’t half bad for an unlicesned company at times.

First off, the Master System was able to present the repetitive landscapes and graphics of the arcade quite well, but that’s the point, they’re bleak. For some reason, unfortunately, the programmers over at Tengen had to make it more bleak. The game generally looks a little less than what you see on the SMS, but the problem apparently was that due to the lesser number of sprites, they had to shrink the enemies and your fighter on the screen. Because of this, the backgrounds look ten times more sparse because there is less jet taking up the space. However, first off, this makes the game a lot less messy and the gameplay more manageable, so it isn’t a bad thing at all. In addition, Tengen managed to overcome the potential for total bleakness, and perhaps realized it while programming, by placing here and there little in-between levels and variations that really mix up the action. When you need to be refilled you might do it by plane or on the ground on the highway, and a bit later on you weave in and out of a chasm shooting down towers and tanks. Nice touch. So in spite of the fact that the graphics are pretty repetitive and you never really face more than the same three enemies over and over in different combinations, they were able to overcome this by throwing some variety at you as well as good gameplay. Well done.

As for the sound, you get a better deal in After Burner than you did on the SMS. First off, the music is not as repetitive, there are different tracks, and second the tunes don’t seem as childish. I’m not sure why, but comparing this to the other is a big difference, the SMS version feels like it was programmed for a two-year-old for some reason. In addition, the sound effects are ten times as good with missles that actually sound like missles and more realistic bullet blasts. Thank god, I actually feel like I’m jet fighting this time around. I didn’t expect less on the NES, but you never know.

After Burner is a third-person shooter like Top Gun except that you’re outside the fighter instead of inside. You can fire bullets and missles, that’s it. No power-ups, nothing, just endless shooting and dodging. This aspect is what made the SMS version so tedious, not to mention the absolute impossibility of dodging missles, but Tengen, thank the gods, was somehow able to overcome this and, in my opinion, the arcade’s problems for the NES version.

If you want to see the detailed explanation of the problems with the other version, go read the review. If not, let me explain just a bit why the NES version is boss. Moving around is easy enough and doing a barrel roll seems much smoother, so no problem with the controls. However, the main issue was that in the other dodging missles seemed impossible because of the mess of graphics and the difficulty in telling when they were approaching you. In this version, Tengen added a little sound that announces when the enemy jets are firing missles at you. So what? Well, because your jet is essentially programmed in a fixed position, to dodge you need to move right after you hear that sound. By adding it, they actually made it so you can play the game for real and move out of the way when you need to instead of cheating and staying up in the corner to dodge everything (this glitch is absent in this version, by the way). But there’s one more huge issue that makes a big difference.

The problem with the SMS version is that not only could you hardly ever dodge missles because it was programmed so poorly, but your missles were totally worthless for taking down enemy fighters before they fire because you can never seem to shoot them at the right time. In this version, however, Tengen threw in a nice, loud, but not annoying, beeping sound that indicates when enemies are approaching so you can manuever, put them in your sites (indicated by a white square appearing in their position as they approach) and send out missles accordingly. Awesome. I can’t even begin to explain how much these two issues make this game fun to play. In addition, it’s easy to play because there’s hardly anything to learn, just keep shooting and going and the difficulty level is set to the perfect position where you can get through the first few stages pretty easily, but then it gets harder, and if you practice you actually, for the love of god yes, get further each time you play. Thank you, Tengen, I love you now.

After Burner was actually a pretty creative game for its time, but it’s hard to give points for a simple port unless something different was done. And although it wasn’t much, what Tengen did here turned an otherwise awful game into something that proves once and for all that in spite of system specs (graphics in particular), gameplay is what it’s all about. They added some little things here and there to spice it up, and overall, though I can’t give a really high score, I’ll score higher than usual because they improved on the original so much.

After Burner on the NES has a boatload of replay value in my opinion. I’ve come back to this religiously several times a week over the past two weeks and I have to say I’m impressed. It’s a lot of fun, easy to play and doesn’t leave me feeling pissed off when I die because I actually get further each time or at least perfect my skills, which is what gaming is all about in the long run. As for length, After Burner is a pretty beastly game, I have yet to beat it but it takes a good fifteen minutes to get to the seventh level and I believe there are twenty three total, so you have a good run ahead of you, but not too much.

In conclusion, I have to say that Tengen really outdid themselves here, which is surprising for an unlicensed company that made an incredibly bad port of Shinobi and nearly got sued to death. After Burner succeeded on a number of levels and it seems to be surprisingly hard to find for a fairly common game (in terms of production numbers) for some reason. If you’re into shooters and want to look at a good version of After Burner, without a doubt check this one out, you’ll be pleased.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 5
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 7.6
Written by Stan Review Guide