Retro Game of the Day! After Burner II
After Burner II by Sega, released to arcades in 1987. I believe the original was released the same year, to the layman they are probably the same game (II was a tweak, essentially). Yep - one of those cases. In this review we will concentrate on the home release for Sega Genesis.
This game was a strong representative of Sega's dominance in the arcade market in the late 80s. They would just keep releasing these powerhouse, genre-defining monsters of brute arcade force that would strike the arcade-goers completely with awe. This, and other Yu Suzuki-designed games just like it, they all used the crazy Super Scalar Sega tech, they had deluxe "cabinet" versions that often rolled and rocked as you played, giving a much more immersive experience than you'd get from the run-of-the-mill competition. After Burner arcade even had a headphone slot! This is a tradition I miss from Sega, though it does still pop up from time-to-time (their recent Initial D racing arcade game lets the Japanese player sit in an actual hydraulically-lifted car!)
Game-wise, After Burner is very similar to the recently-discussed Space Harrier - you control a character which is traveling forward into the screen, shooting and dodging and little else. Unlike it's predecessor, After Burner has a few tweaks - much more hectic action, an increased sense of speed (accentuated when you use the actual in-game afterburners to briefly blast through the skies at an accelerated rate) - you have a barrel roll to evade enemy fire, and of course a (limited) supply of lock-on missiles that can be launched alongside your standard-issue vulcan cannon.
I eagerly picked this up for my Sega Genesis - everything about After Burner oozed of coolness, how could I NOT want this? The huge explosions, the Top Gun jets, the intense speed, the metal-rockin' soundtrack. I even bought a special flight stick just to make it feel more like the arcade (yeah, I was dedicated!) The home version did not disappoint - it was absolutely a hugely-watered-down version of the arcade, the huge scaling sprites were reduced very much, you could tell they were doing the old "redrawn sprites trick" - but everything else was fairly well nailed. They really got the feeling of After Burner down pretty well. I was pretty satisfied.
Nowadays, games like this are a grim reminder that though Sega used to be this monstrous powerhouse in gaming, now they are much more of a laid-back bit player - lots of those older companies are, the videogame industry is a completely different tract of land than it used to be 20 years ago. No one wants big mammoth efforts like After Burner anymore. If you're making a flight game, it's gotta be seriously Simulation. If it's gonna be arcade action, just shelve this and play an FPS instead, lots of them have vehicles you can control, right? I guess Namco Bandai (and maybe Sammy) still make some air-to-air combat games these days, but it's a far cry from what this used to be.
Whatever your preference, I had a blast with these games back in the day and if ever I came across an After Burner cockpit machine somewhere, you can bet I'd not think twice about forking over a buck to relive some good times! Viva la Sega!