- Format: 3DS
- Unleashed: Out Now (eShop)
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: SEGA
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.sega.co.uk
- Game code provided by the publisher
That title looks a bit odd, doesn’t it? It was written that way (we presume) to avoid naming the game “After Burner II 3D”, which would of course be read by the vast majority of people as “After Burner 23D”, causing mass panic across the planet as the human race is rapidly led to believe that a group of SEGA employees have discovered irrefutable evidence of another 18 dimensions of existence. Furthermore, the fear would be that this revolutionary discovery was used to create an After Burner reboot that can only be played by ripping through the very fabric of reality, running a very real risk of destroying the multiverse in its entirety. Within 24 hours this would lead to worldwide riots which, in turn, would trigger overzealous militarised police responses which would, in its own turn, cause the undercurrent of dissatisfaction and resentment that permeates much of the world thanks to widespread imbalance in distribution of the world’s wealth to boil over. Civil wars would erupt around the globe which would, before long, feed into a third world war. Infrastructures would be crippled, meaning as many lives would end up being lost to disease and neglect as to direct military action. When the dust finally settles over this brief but devastating war, the world’s population would likely be no more than 10% of the figure it stood at previously.
Just as well they called it 3D After Burner II then.
Anyway. After Burner II first entered the world in 1987, making it older than some of the people reading this. There were several console and home computer versions, but it was originally an arcade game. For those not in the know, it was an into-the-screen shooter which nonetheless limited your movement to a 2D plane (geddit? Because aeroplanes!). You shot fighter jets down while trying to avoid your own jet being shot down and, well… that’s about it. There were a few different cabinet types for this game, and it’s arguably best remembered thanks to the more expensive units. You sat down in this thing, and it banked left and right with your plane’s movements. Somewhat difficult to emulate on a 3DS.
That said, a valiant effort is made. Amongst the surprisingly extensive options are different screen sizes and cabinet types for the border. If you combine the ‘Commander’ type with a suitably small screen size and enable the 3D for a sense of depth, what you get is an effect amusingly close to sitting in the arcade cabinet, complete with (admittedly subtle and unobtrusive) shifting of the entire display. You’re using the 3DS controls rather than a flight stick, of course, but anybody who remembers the original will love it.
Speaking of those who remember the original, they definitely seem to be the target audience. There’s no smoothed over, 21st century graphics option a la Monkey Island, and no heaps of brand new stages. There are certainly concessions to the year 2015; the aforementioned platter of options includes various tweaks that can be made to the controls (allowing for left handers and – surprisingly – the option of using the Circle Pad Pro), and the ability to increase or decrease the difficulty or starting number of lives. By and large however, this is After Burner II as it was when Ronald Reagan was America’s overlord.
This means that the old ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ thing is very much at play here. Your jet moves automatically, but you can speed it up or slow it down; you get an infinite ammo gun and a generous (but finite) number of lock-on missiles; you can barrel roll to avoid incoming fire; and that, as they say, is it. There’s also a new ‘Burst’ ability you can choose to disable or ignore which, when charged, allows you to slow time for a few precious seconds. Finally, when you’ve completed the game for the first time (which will probably take you about 20 minutes), you unlock another mode which features a) no continues, b) alternate text that sees you out to save ‘Tom’ rather than ‘Lucy’ (“We were the best team in the navy!”), and c) a ‘rival pilot’. The death of continues aside, the differences are negligible.
The 23 stages may be extremely short, but the level select filled out as you go (for the standard mode) is still more than welcome. How much use you’ll make of it however – and how often you’ll return to the game in general – is questionable. A small part of this is that you’ll die a lot while playing this game. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but many of these deaths can feel somewhat unfair. The heavily pixellated graphics may be faithful to the original release, but they’re far from distinct. Again, not a problem by itself; but combined with the relatively small screen of a handheld and the huge, blocky clouds of smoke regularly punctuating explosions and missile launches, your jet will often be sent crashing to the ground without you being entirely sure of how or why.
More damningly, the high score board is utterly neutered. The main reason kids who paid attention to arcade high scores kept pumping fifty pence pieces into the machines was to dominate – or at the very least, get as high as they could on – the scoreboard (or occasionally to type ASS and giggle). Unless you’re in the habit of pinning strangers to the ground without warning, thrusting your 3DS in their face to boast of your mad skillz, nobody will know or care about your scores. There are no online leaderboards, and not even any sort of Streetpass or Spotpass support.
£4.49 won’t exactly break the bank, but it feels a tad high for what you get here. The less nostalgia you have to smear over the experience, the less mileage you’ll get out of this.