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After Burner Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1988 Also On: Arcade, NES

Where to begin with this one? I believe most people who play video games are somewhat familiar with this title, or have at least heard of it. After Burner was originally in the arcade. It never really caught my attention because I didn’t think it was very good because there was too much coming at you later on, though it was pretty intense for the time. It was clear that it would eventually appear on home video game systems in some form, and the Master System was one of the consoles to get it. Of course, before I get into the review, let me state that this is the best visual representation from the time, terrible though it is in the long run.

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The graphics here are decent. The opening title screens are pretty solid, though basic in some respects. In the game proper, however, things are just too bleak. The main draw of this game was the action, not the backgrounds, I’m aware of that, but when it’s difficult to play (I’ll discuss later), it makes these things stand out. There simply isn’t anything going on. Your jet is well animated, but the enemies are the same thing over and over, and the backgrounds just go on into eternity with no alterations whatsoever other than different scenery for each level. There are so many levels in this game that they just start using the good old color swap technique later on, and they don’t even throw in the little extra features you find on the NES to mix things up. This is pretty much how it was in the arcade, so it must be said that they did well at porting the uncreative graphics to the Master System. I can’t give high marks for that though.

The music is pretty close to the original, and as such shares its features of just not being all that great. They’re nice tunes, not in any way bad, but they’re also not in any way going to stick with you as good pieces of music, and a bit too upbeat for the action. The sound effects are mixed; the explosions are good, but your bullets sound like total trash, more like, hmmm, how to put this, more like balls bouncing than bullets, that’s the best image I can provide. And missles? It sounds like someone turning up TV static to the highest possible level for a brief, split second, not to mention they look terrible (should have mentioned that earlier). Awful and annoying. For a bonus, though, if you play the Mark III version you get to hear the FM sound blasting at you, which is pretty dang incredible. So keep in mind that in terms of sound I’m referring to the NTSC and PAL Master System version only here.

After Burner is a third-person jet fighting game. If you know Top Gun, take that and place yourself out of the cockpit. Thus you fly about in the middle of the screen. The only indication that you’re moving anywhere is the background and the enemies. If it weren’t for them you’d look like you were just spinning around. But as for the basics, the controls are fine and such, you shoot and fire missles, avoiding enemies and missles when you need to. But, of course, there are problems.

For some reason the programming seems to have been done haphazardly. When a missile comes toward you, you’d figure, okay move out of the way. You can do this just fine, so long as you do it after the enemy has fired (because the program locks it on to your spot at that moment). If you move when they fire, however, it looks like they hit you when they’re about 200km away from your jet regardless of where you are in relation to them because technically your jet hasn’t moved anywhere. Remember, the jet is simply in the middle of the screen, you’re basically rotating everything around it, thus it’s position is fixed. This is compounded by some messy graphics where, after shooting a few jets and missles, you can’t see what’s coming behind the sludge and get struck. Thus, if you want to have any chance of getting to later levels playing in the raw, all you can do is hold in right or left upwards and for some reason you avoid everything. Absolutely nothing will hit you for about eighteen levels. So, you are stuck then just watching bland backgrounds go by until you get to the next level, and then do it all over again until you go through all of them. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so bad, except that it takes about five minutes to beat each one.

You do have infinite shots and missiles, but with no upgrades or what not it loses its “blast away” coolness effect rather quickly because it’s so much more difficult to play than the arcade. The arcade was difficult because it was a little too ridiculous, this is difficult because of shoddy programming. At least in Top Gun, aside from the lame graphics, you had the added fun and intensity of the landing and refueling points. There’s just nothing like that in After Burner that you have to worry about if you hold in left or right, and since you pretty much have to do this the action dies quite quickly, if there even was any to begin with.

After Burner was somewhat original for its time. However, this doesn’t mean that it was good. It was just creative, a new take on an old theory. You have the classic “flight simulator,” you take it out of the cockpit, and you make it more battle intense. In fact, something came before this, Sky Destroyer, and it turned out quite awesome. The idea of the third-person shooter sounds good, but it just didn’t come out right in After Burner in the arcade, or on the Master System. It would have been fabulous if they had made it better for home release, but they didn’t.

Now we come to the replay value. This game has none. I give it a complete zero here because there just isn’t anything going on that you’ll want to come back to for any reason. If the action was as playable as it is intense and messy, then yeah, but unfortunately for us, no. I tried it after I mastered the NES version, thinking I had simply not given it enough time, but no, I was right, it was simply put together wrong. Read my review on the other to see what the difference is, I don’t want to get too much into it here.

After Burner is a real bummer, not simply because it was sad to begin with, but even more so because Sega decided to not really do anything to make it better for the home market. In fact, for another kick to the junk, the NES version, programmed by Tengen, is actually a million times better in certain regards. They just took the same crappy game and made it slightly crappier because they had to tone down the sound quality and graphics. They really should have made a unique game for the Master System based on this, perhaps a nice shooter or something instead of trying for that arcade action at home. Instead, the player is plagued by the same arcade menace that I don’t remember anyone actually playing for long, but perhaps it was where I lived. Consider long and hard before buying this game.

Graphics: 4
Sound: 4
Gameplay: 2.5
Creativity: 3
Replay Value/Game Length: 0
Final: 1.9
Written by Stan Review Guide