After Burner II - Sega Ages 2500
Sega's After Burner II was one of the coolest arcade games back in the day - and it still is, proves Sega with its Ages-2500 series remake for PlayStation 2.
Conspiracy Games (US, UK)
Inspired by the hit movie Top Gun, Sega's Yu Suzuki set out to develop a game that captured the thrill and excitement of airborne combat without the headaches of crashing and burning in the middle of a hot desert and having to hike your way back to home base. When the original After Burner burst onto the arcade scene in 1987, it became quite a hit, quickly spawning a sequel that was released that very same year. (That had to be a first, a sequel released within the same year as the original).
Capitalizing on the success of the original, After Burner II flew into arcades and blew gamers away with intense jet fightin' action that featured high-speed pseudo 3D visuals with smooth scaling and rotation effects, sterling gameplay, and some high energy, rockin music being pumped out by Yamaha's exemplary sound chip - all were experienced while sitting in an arcade cabinet that rocked and rolled with every movement of your fighter plane.
Improving on the original formula, After Burner II added 4 new levels to the original's 19 and also added new landing and refueling levels that featured cool cameos from other Sega properties. Other additions made were more graphical details, a better soundtrack, a higher challenge level, and a thruster that provided the game with a much faster sense of speed. All of these new additions were just what After Burner needed to stand out as one of the greatest games of that era - and arguably the best game of its type.
Now in 2004, Sega has seen fit to pull After Burner II out of the vault and release a glorious PS2 remake, sans an awesome sit-down cabinet filled with mechanical parts and hydraulics tossing players around in every direction.
Sega Ages: After Burner II retains all of the high speed action found in the arcade classic while bringing enhanced graphics and sound to the mix. To tell you the truth, the developers did such a great job with the 3D conversion that it's a little hard to tell the difference between this and the 1987 arcade release.
Armed with missiles, a Vulcan gun, and throttle controls players are charged with the task of piloting an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet through 23 levels of intense highflying action. Enemy jets and choppers attack from both the front and rear, dispatching heat-seeking missiles, dropping bombs, and mowing you down with machine gun fire.
Advancing through the game is simple; all you have to do is survive the enemy onslaught long enough to make it to the next level. You aren't required to shoot down enemy planes in order to score or advance. We managed to play through the entire game without ever firing a shot and still managed to complete it with a decent score. The score counter automatically increases as long as your plane remains in motion, and like the arcade version, never resets even after continuing.
The game controls, despite being a little more sensitive than before, still retain the simplicity and smoothness of the arcade classic. Targeting is handled by the game's sight lock feature, allowing you to lock-on to multiple enemy jets and choppers at once and dispatch a string of missiles that turn the skies into a fireworks display of exploding enemy planes.
The difficulty of the game seems to be a little easier than the classic version and while the gameplay can be considered to be a bit repetitive, it never gets boring. While the majority of the game is spent blasting enemy planes and choppers out of the sky, you do encounter a few levels where you fly through canyons trying to avoid crashing into the dangerous rocks while destroying communication towers, tanker trucks, military vehicles, and the enemy camps below in order to score some nice bonus points.
Providing players with a brief break from all the action are refueling levels where you land to refuel and restock on missiles. These landing and refueling levels provide a short break from the non-stop shooting action and even feature ultra cool cameo appearances from two other Sega franchises - Hang-On and Outrun - as they race against your jet as its taking off.
When playing in the Arcade Mode, Sega Ages: Space Harrier remains the same as the arcade classic while adding new levels and a total of 4 jets to pilot in the Arrange mode. Fortunately unlike in the Space Harrier remake, no weird new tunnel levels were added to this awesome remake.
Visually, After Burner II was never one to really wow gamers with its graphics. While the game featured cool pseudo 3D graphics that were bright, colorful, and detailed, players were usually busy blasting through the levels at such a high rate of speed while dodging enemy fire that they were bound to miss the detailed forest of trees, houses, and various other structures down below.
With Sega Ages: After Burner II, the graphics of the original have benefited greatly from true 3-D graphics. The environments are still bright and colorful, scrolling by at blazing speeds while enemy jets light up the skies and explode into flames. Missiles produce nice smoke trails as they seek out and destroy their targets - whether it's an enemy plane or your own.
The action remained brisk without any signs of slowdown, and while there was some pop-up during the two canyon levels, who bloody cares eh?
The soundtrack of the original After Burner II was quite excellent. A highly energetic synth-rock soundtrack accompanied the action and the PS2 remake remains within those lines with an equally impressive soundtrack, that to be frank, doesn't sound much different - even in sound quality - to the original version.
The sound effects have also translated well from the arcade original and feature a short list of sounds that range from the sounds of your thrusters shifting into high gear, propelling you through the levels at mach speeds to the sonic booms of enemy jets and choppers exploding all around you. It's all here!
The voice samples have also remained true to the original, shouting familiar phrases like, "Get Ready!", "Fire!", "The enemy! 3 o' Clock. Break Left! Break Left!" and more.
I have to admit I was a little afraid the developers might try to get 'creative' with some of the phrases used in the game and add some new cheesy stuff like they did in the Space Harrier remake, torturing us with potential cheeseball phrases like- "Keep flying the friendly skies!", or some crap like that. I'm glad to see they behaved themselves this time and kept everything as is.
Overall, After Burner II has been blessed with a remake that fully captures the high speed graphics and intense gameplay of the original while providing it with some great audio & visual enhancements to wet the appetites of hardcore fans and casual gamers alike. Now Sega, PLEASE remake Super Hang-On EXACTLY the same way!