There’s always been something intensely idyllic about Sega’s pastoral blue skies in many of their arcade titles, so much so that such visuals are what many fans have come to expect from the company’s subsequent arcade release. It has never been more so than in Sega’s updates to Yu Suzuki’s two most well-known 80’s releases, Outrun and After Burner. The latter has made its way Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network as the home port of the 2006 sequel, After Burner Climax.
Longtime fans will feel 23 years younger as the simple, classic controls remain intact. Firing missiles after lock-on will obstruct the screen with white smoke trails, after burners can be engaged, and of course, there are barrel rolls aplenty. Many will grow accustomed to the added tweaks that were not in the original game. There are a few scenarios where the player is tasked to fulfilled a sub-goal, whether it is to shoot down a specific target (one being a stealth plane, which cannot be taken down with missiles), protect friendlies, and navigate through caverns undetected. Moreover, there are now branching flight paths similar to the multiple routes in Outrun, as well as indoor environments that call to mind Sega’s Thunder Blade and Galaxy Force. The latter, with its confining spaces and countless hazards can make for some exhilarating Death Star-style excursions. As one final touch of nostalgia, series fans can–before taking off–toggle between the brand new guitar-driven music and the classic After Burner II soundtrack.
The iconic F-14 Tomcat has been updated with the similar-looking F-14D Super Tomcat. It is joined by the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the F-15 Strike Eagle, all of which can be modified aesthetically with a number of available paint jobs. It should be added that completists can unlock all 12 achievements, which does include clearing the game will all three jets as well as simple tasks like performing a barrel roll and activating Climax Mode.
Climax Mode is in a way the game’s equivalent of the screen-clearing bomb in many side-scrolling shooters. As one progresses through the game, the Climax Gauge fills up. When full, the player can activate Climax Mode, which slows down time and lets the player lock-on to a large group of enemies. Seconds later, the user exits Climax Mode, and streams of missiles fly to those pre-targeted enemies. While purists will argue it makes the game too easy, it does add another dimension to the gameplay not unlike how Outrun 2 became an experience all its own due to the mile-long drifts that were not in the series before.
Many of the greatest console games in recent memory have managed to get away without needing 60 frames per second fluidity. Yet 60 FPS feels essential to After Burner Climax. This kind of visual goodness enhances the game’s overall graphics, all of which are eye-catchingly impressive, making it one of the most gorgeous Xbox Live Arcade games ever. The aforementioned blue skies only comprise of a tiny portion of Climax’s backgrounds, as the pilot also flies above moonlit cities, traverse expansive deserts, and shoot down foes in front of breathtaking sunsets. There’s even a volcanic wasteland that looks both superb and hazardous.
True to the arcade original, one Climax mission takes less than 15 minutes, yet will require many attempts to actually beat the game. It does help that the more one plays, but more one has access to the various parts of the EX Options, which offers everything from unlimited missiles to near invincibility to a perpetually full Climax bar. Earning these options requires fulfilling goals such as shooting down enemies and initiating a set amount of Climax modes. To complete the mission without any modifications will certainly take some time, but is as equally rewarding as beating the original 1987 game on one credit. The game’s online leaderboard system is tied into the game’s Score Attack mode, where medals are awarded by fulfilling yet another set of achievements.
This home version of After Burner Climax might lack the immersion of the sit-down arcade cabinet, but it is a minor trade-off for not having to shell out $1.50 per credit. This of course goes without saying for any faithful arcade-to-console conversion, but is all the more poignant when After Burner Climax looks excellent on a large high-definition TV (having evaluated this title on a 48-inch screen). The arcade version comparison also helps comparatively justify the $10 XBLA/PSN price, where the game practically pays for itself after just a few playthroughs.
(This review was based off multiple playthroughs of the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game. This took about 6 hours. 10 out of 12 achievements were unlocked for a Gamerscore of 180. The game was reviewed through an Xbox 360 debug unit.)
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network
Released: April 22, 2010