Review by Ryan Harrison
I think I have motion sickness.
When Sega realised they had a hit on their hands with the original 1987 After Burner, there was never any doubt about a follow-up game and they certainly wasted no time, with the After Burner II cabinets on the arcade game within the same year! You take control of an F-14 fighter jet, taking on an entire fleet of enemy aircraft and using your cannons and homing missiles to take them all out before they have the chance to send you crashing and burning yourself! The game is one of the most well-known early forward-scrolling shooters from the arcades in the 1980s, featuring some pretty pleasant graphics and the feeling of flying along at breakneck speeds, it also provides a good challenge and does little wrong as both a flight-sim and shooter game.
The camera angle is fixed behind your fighter plane, which is located in the centre of the screen while flying straight ahead, though by moving the cabinets throttle-styled joystick, you can manoeuvre around the screen, and the controls and gameplay style are more or less self-explanatory. The rapid-fire trigger button, when held down releases short bursts of bullets to shoot straight ahead of you, and the top button depletes a homing missile to lock onto any highlighted targets in the distance. This is all there is to the dog-fighting aspect of the game with little else changing, so getting used to how to make best use of these and avoiding enemy fire becoming your primary focus. With more, and different enemies starting to appear as the game goes on, youll find that there is otherwise very little change from one stage to the next.
After Burner II has the same classic feel of many of the other popular Sega arcade games from back in the day that also included the likes of Hang On and OutRun (both of which were made courtesy of the same designer, Yu Suzuki) and the most common cabinet design was a large sit-down booth that the player could climb inside, and would tilt and thrust to mimic the movement of the on-screen fighter jet. It proves easy for gamers of any experience to pick up and familiarise themselves with the control and playing style right from the off.
Moving along at a very fast and slick rate, this is one of the more impressive features about the game, however it does also present a couple of drawbacks. Your jet takes up a considerable amount of space, and it can at times be difficult to see what is ahead of you, be it an enemy jet or a projectile. Also, without some prior memorisation of enemy attacking patterns, in areas with multiple threat to contend with, it can be difficult to react to enemy fire before its too late! What also makes this slightly even more tricky is how the screen rocks slants as well, so aiming at your target and trying to get out of the way of oncoming fire becomes complicated.
There are some helpful features in the game; one of them is your lock-on target, which highlights an enemy plane when it is within range, accompanied by a Fire! voice-over on your radio. Whenever this happens, a simple tap of the missile button will launch a homing missile at that target to send it down, so youll know when to make use of these missiles and thus not waste them. Your on-screen radar alerts you of any enemy missiles or kamikaze jets that may try to attack you from the front, thus you must speed up or slow down accordingly. Every so often between levels, the gameplay is broken up with the occasional weapon reload which tops up your missile stock, and some bonus stages that involve flying your way through narrow canyons and between communication towers.
For visuals, the game provides some decent detailing on your jet, and some varied and colourful landscapes ranging from oceans, deserts, brilliant white glaciers and forests. Backgrounds, particularly skies on the other hand have rather plain and basic designs. The game does a tremendous job of giving the sense of continually flying forward at very fast speeds as the scenery below rapidly scrolls forward, and objects on the horizon quickly growing in size the closer they get. Other neat effects like gunfire, smoke and explosions are none too shabby, nor is the blazing trail of fire and shrapnel shown if you take a hit and are left only to watch hopelessly as the tomcat dives nose first into the ground with a resounding burst of noise!
A high-energy rock soundtrack plays throughout, occasionally slowing to a more mellow theme after every few stages while you get to take a break and reload before its back to the action again. The music accompanies the action very well, and does a great job of drawing you in and immersing you into the game if listening through the sit-in cabinets built-in stereo speakers. A limited, but effective range of sound effects include the grinding of the cannon, sweeping whooshes of missiles soaring through the air, and deep, heavy explosions that somehow sound rather satisfying when they accompany your missiles successfully taking out whatever it comes into contact with. There are plenty of loud sound effects going on at almost all times though, so do be prepared to have to put up with a lot of it if youre aiming to get the whole way through!
You are given a handful of lives per credit you spend in the machine, and after losing your last life, by obtaining more credits are able to continue on from where you left off, making beating the game a lot easier if you have the funds to spend on it. The downside, however, is that enemies can defeat you with as little as a single hit, and when youre faced with dozens of hazards at a single time with little room to manoeuvre and often the dizzying speeds and unstable camera, you just may find that youll be losing lives a little too frequently and perhaps spending more than you would want to!
After Burner II is a very good game as far as arcade-style shooters go, however does have an overall rather repetitive feel to it, and while it comes with over 20 different stages, many of them are rather short and can be beaten in a couple of minutes, without much changing bar the amount of enemies to contend with. There is also not a lot else to find on a second playthrough after successfully completing the game, though the action is fun and challenging enough in itself to warrant a return playthrough a few times afterwards.
These days, After Burner II has been ported to numerous home consoles, and the authentic arcade version has also found its way to a number of Sega game compilations as well as seeing a handheld 3D remake available for the 3DS any worth going for if youre looking to play without the worry of having to spend a small chunk of money to continue playing several times over. However, this game still feels best enjoyed in that classic moving cockpit cabinet on the big screen that does a good job of drawing you in. Despite its limitations, After Burner II is a game no shooter fan should pass up on, and would be worth your money and time if youre still lucky enough to stumble across an original arcade cabinet.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: After Burner II (EU, 12/31/87)
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