Genre: Shmup Developer: Namco Publisher: Namco Players: 1 Released: 1990
Namco was one of the first companies to provide much needed third party support for the Genesis. Along with Phelios (awesome shmup), they released Burning Force , a Space Harrier-type shooter that tries very hard to emulate that pioneering title. Unfortunately, it comes up a bit short.
The game tells the tale of Hiromi, a student at Earth University who only needs to pass her six-day graduation test in order to become a “Space fighter” (I almost groaned aloud upon reading that). Each day is divided into three areas. Astride your airbike, you must battle wave after wave of enemies using a myriad of weapons and powerups. Your airbike isn’t the most aerodynamic craft and can’t jump without the aid of a ramp (used to grab powerups), so you’ll need to choose the right weapon to take out oncoming ships and mechs. Control is very tight and your airbike/plane responds well. You’ll be avoiding fireballs and columns like a pro in no time.
The first two areas each have mini bosses, while the last holds the main boss. Before beginning the area, you’re taken into the mothership so that your airbike can be converted into a plane. You’re also given the boss’ weak point. When you beat him, you get to go to a bonus stage to collect 10, 100, & 1000 point icons. Doesn’t sound that much like Space Harrier, does it? Um….
Being that Burning Force is an early Genesis game, you probably won’t be surprised that it only uses three buttons to play. Laser, missile, and item can be swapped in a few control schemes in the option menu (check out the sound test while you’re there) and you can choose between easy or hard difficulty.
You’ve got three types of main weaponry: laser, wide, and cross laser. Laser is very potent but only shoots in a straight line. The wide beam is weaker but covers more ground, while the cross laser is a combination of both. You can also pick up two types of missiles, homing and max (releases powerful explosions). Each icon you find gives you five missiles.
Shooting obstacles sometimes uncovers invincibility items that protect you for a limited amount of time. I found though, that having the right combination of laser and missiles almost makes this item unnecessary.
To say that this game borrows heavily from Space Harrier is an understatement. From the floor warping effect to the destructible obstacles, the influence of that pioneering title is everywhere. Unfortunately, the developers forgot to include what made Space Harrier so much fun: the sense of speed you got when playing. Instead of zipping past rocks and mushrooms, you’ll find yourself lazily blasting through everything in your path, or just avoiding obstacles altogether. I know Namco tried to put the emphasis on shooting, as opposed to dodging, but if you’re going to take from a great game, why not take what made it great in the first place?
I did like the floor warping effect, even though they only alternate between wavy lines and squares (only the colors change). The backgrounds, however, are plain almost to the point of being ugly. Your airbike and plane have no animation whatsoever, but neither did Harrier so…
Enemies are nicely drawn and colorful. There aren’t any graphical effects to speak of (the bomb splash in stage four did look nice) but we have to remember just how early a title this game was. I did notice some occasional slowdown but it wasn’t enough to get excited about.
Burning Force sports a very cool soundtrack, one you might decide to hunt down. I found myself spending quite some time in the sound test, casually going through each track. Good stuff.
I wish I could say the same for the sound effects. Generic explosions and blasts are the rule of the day, causing you to concentrate more on the music (as you should!). I’ve always wondered why more Genesis games didn’t use the sound effects from Phantasy Star 2. That title had some awesome sounds not used by any other title on the system. It’s a shame too, as Burning Force needs all the audio help it can get.
You can probably find a complete copy of BF for under $5 and should buy it if you can. It’s not necessarily a bad game, just one that fails to live up to the title it tries to emulate. Buy it for the music alone if you have to, but at least give it a try. While not a must-have title, it’s worthy of your time and is a pretty good play.
SCORE: 6 out of 10