Review: 3D After Burner II
Posted 09 Feb 2015 at 20:52 by Sam C Gittins
It may have been quite the wait between releases in Europe but we now finally have 3D After Burner II which has again been expertly converted by the simply unstoppable developer M2, as they have done themselves proud once again. Moving a landmark title like this from its 1987 arcade roots to a modern portable gaming device is quite the undertaking; yet here feats of technical wizardry have been accomplished without so much as a notable fanfare. Speaking as a long-term fan of Sega titles I feel it's only right to let it be rightly known that this title along with all the other 3D workings are most definitely appreciated so thank you M2 for making this possible and to Sega for creating this classic in the first place and without further delay it's time to take to the skies!
Most of us will never get to pilot an F-14D Tomcat fighter jet armed with machine guns and missiles, which is why this game was such a hit in the first place as many of the original arcade machines would literally put you into the pilot seat; while this is simply not possible here it's evident that there are other methods of drawing you into the action which have been implemented with aplomb. Obviously the 3D is the main draw which is splendid in itself but what's even better still is that you can opt for several different cabinet views if you'd prefer, personally I opted to have the action take up the majority of the screen but it's really impressive to see this kind of attention to detail from the outset effectively giving you more ways to play complete with authentic tilting movements.
No matter how you decide to play though, the action is still the same from the glorious take-off sequence from atop a large ship in the middle of the ocean complete with a crew running about on deck, you fire up your thrusters, initiate take-off and you're away! Straight into the fray as you frantically bank from left to right, doing a barrel roll! In order to avoid enemy fire while you hammer out a string of bullets from your own craft into the distance, you lock on to multiple targets dispatching them with your rockets instinctively as the digitised voice yells 'Fire!' at you before informing you to 'Brake!' as there is a bogey on your tail; so you do this just in time as you destroy yet another fighter before suddenly realising that the next wave is already upon you but your craft is already plummeting towards the ground as you crash into a building engulfed in flames with your craft strewn across the earth below or buried at sea. That was only your first go!
After Burner II is certainly a trial by fire but as with anything in life you only get better with practice which this certainly requires rather a lot of indeed, it's still fun though even after your sixteenth consecutive attempt at trying to attain a flawless run yet only making it through a few stages. The controls are delightfully simple requiring little to no effort to execute being that you will be essentially boosting, braking, gunning down and firing missiles with the option to fully customise controls being very welcome, personally I found it easiest to map the speed controls to the shoulder buttons with the projectiles assigned to the face buttons but you can choose whichever setup suits you; it's even possible to put the speed control onto the second circle pad if you're using a Circle Pad Pro attachment or onto the 'C-stick' on the New 3DS/XL which I was pleased to see is recognised immediately despite the fact I ended up not using it, options are always appreciated.
Even if you're finding the game to be a little more than challenging, after you've passed all the stages - you can retry from the stage you last reached - you will unlock Special Mode which allows you to fill a 'Burst' gauge granting you a few seconds of 'bullet time' in which you can easily avoid enemy fire or take down an entire fleet with ease before it reverting back to its usual manic pace moments later. If you manage to rack up enough of a score then you'll be able to extend play by obtaining extra lives every few hundred thousand points which is just as well seeing as you won't be granted any continues here; it certainly adds an interesting dynamic to the original game as it will alter the way in which you play, possibly even improving your overall skill in the process which in my case is a good thing as I was initially struggling to keep the aircraft in the sky for more than six seconds at a time due to the steep learning curve.
Some amazing visuals are present in addition to including many varied environmental situations such as flying across the open ocean, over jungle tree tops, between the stone walls of a canyon, through snowfields and soaring high over urban areas. While the 3D effect is pretty special in itself espcially taking into account the detailed jet sprites along with the busy nature of the game, it's equally enjoyable purely on the level of noticing the smaller things going on as well such as the people running around on the runway as you refuel plus even a brief cameo as the car from Outrun drives past you ever so briefly; which reminds me Sega... isn't there another conceptually similar title with a more grounded setting due for release in Europe soon?
Calling this incarnation of After Burner II aurally atmospheric is something of an understatement, everything within the sound design is pitch perfect from the sublime sound effects including the roar of the jet engines, clatter of gunfire, bombastic missile sounds and of course the catastrophic collisions resulting in exemplary explosions; it all puts you very much in the zone on the speakers alone but plug in some headphones to enter a world of your own. Even the accompanying music tracks never get dull as they serve to further accentuate the immersion level and if that wasn't enough, you can even change the individual sampling frequencies on the included equaliser so that you can hear the details in a newfound startling clarity previous thought unimaginable.
This is without a doubt the definitive port of an arcade classic which for me beats even After Burner Complete on the 32X which was previously my entry of choice for the classic series until now, I'll take this 3D entry over any other incarnation anyone cares to mention as it really does have it all. Even if this had only been the original game featuring only the arcade mode in 3D it would have been enough, M2 have gone above and beyond that in providing everything you could conceivably expect plus more with the After Burner Climax inspired extra elements in addition to featuring more than enough options; this is a classic franchise that I for one am glad has been brought back with avengeance as it's a solid addition to the existing library of 3D workings which I can only hope will be allowed to develop further even if Sega are no longer officially involved with console releases of any kind, at least allow M2 to continue in their quest for complete 3D legacy.
N-Europe Final Verdict
The finest conversion ever realised of a true Sega arcade classic in portable 3D form. Taking to the skies in After Burner has never felt so good.
Blisteringly fast action
Endless replay value
Steep learning curve