Genre: Shmup Developer: Fishing Cactus/AM2 Publisher: SEGA Players: 1 Released: 2013
Ah, After Burner! Many a Genesis gamer from the very early years has fond memories about this frantic shoot-’em-up. The Genesis port of After Burner II in particular was what many people understood back in the day what true arcade feeling at home must be like. And for what it’s worth, a few years later the 32X was graced with an almost arcade-perfect rendition with After Burner Complete. The fast-paced action, the pounding soundtrack and the gripping gameplay demanding near-perfect reflexes drew quite a crowd in the mid-’80s, and were one of the ’90s prime example for Genesis doing what Nintendon’t. So it was kind of odd that After Burner and After Burner II, for a very long time, weren’t graced with a true sequel (unless we count G-LOC: Air Battle and the Sega CD port of Strike Fighter which for some reason was called After Burner III).
This changed in 2006 when, almost 20 years since After Burner II hit the scene, Sega AM2 finally brought a true sequel into the arcades. After Burner Climax replaced the classic, iconic F-14 Tomcat with the (slightly) newer F-14D Super Tomcat and also threw in two additional jet fighters: the F/A-18E Super Hornet and a F-15E Strike Eagle. After that, it took another four years until this game found its way into our homes, this time as a downloadable title on XBOX Live and the PSN for XBOX 360 and PS3 respectively. The reception of that port was okay, with the game receiving generally positive reviews.
Now, after an additional three years have passed, SEGA has decided to make After Burner go mobile. Since early February After Burner Climax is available for 2,99$ (2,69 €) for iOS systems (version 5.0 or higher), including – as the press release explicitly states – the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini with their Retina-Displays. Well, when I say “including” I might as well say “optimized for”: While the game certainly runs on the older iPhone models 4 and 4s, their processing power seems a bit lacking: Scrolling and movements are at times very jerky. Also worth mentioning: While playing this game on an iPhone 4 it actually locked up twice and had to be manually shut down from the home screen. It didn’t happen on a newer device, though. So if you want to get more enjoyment out of the game, you should better make sure to play it on one of the newer Apple gadgets.
What we get is pure, undiluted arcade-style action: More than twenty stages, loads of unlockables (including, but not limited to, a ton of extra options allowing you to adjust certain features like gun damage or autofire), and the typical After Burner brand of frantic gameplay. Played on retina displays, the game simply looks beautiful, even if you hardly find any time of taking in the sights. Yes, again it’s frantic, fast-paced action with barely a break to catch a breath granted. As a nice bonus, you can even choose whether you’d like to play the game with the Climax arcade soundtrack or with the classic After Burner II tunes, so fans of the old games can tackle this one with their old aural favorite blasting out of their earphones.
So it has the advantages of a nice-looking arcade game accompanied by the corresponding soundtrack. However, it also inherited one of the typical flaws: The playtime, or rather the lack thereof. Given enough training, you can easily blast through the entire game in about 12 minutes give or take. There is an optional score attack mode, but other than that the game sadly misses any options to further prolong the gameplay.
So how does it control? Sadly, this is the biggest downside to this port. You can switch between three different control styles. The first is purely virtual, directing the path of flight with your fingertip on the screen and adjusting speed and firing the guns by sliding or tapping the corresponding areas. Options two and three employ the accelerometer of your Apple device: you can either use it to adjust the speed or to steer the plane. The latter option however is barely playable, as it makes it very hard to see what’s going on and near impossible to make any controlled maneuvers when trying to steer and adjust the speed per slider at the same time. Also, there’s a tutorial for employing the controls, but it doesn’t work with the accelerometer options enabled. So you might as well stick with the standard control scheme. And that is.. well, not very comfortable, to be honest. Controlling the flight of a fighter jet with an analog stick feels way more natural than trying to guide the plane by dragging your finger across the screen – especially with the typically inverted controls along the Y-Axis: Dragging your finger up makes the plane take a nose dive, pulling it down makes the jet go up. That’s normal for an analog scheme, but it feels very unintuitive for touch controls. You can inverse the Y-Axis though, which I definitely recommend.
Final Verdict: It certainly feels sweet to have After Burner come to your mobile devices. The soundtrack is great, and fans of the fast paced Arcade action will have a good time – if the play it on a bigger screen. The iOS port comes with HDMI and Airplay support, which I would highly recommend utilizing, since playing such a frantic game on such a small screen can be quite a chore. Frankly I would rather recommend investing about $8 to get the superior XBLA or PSN versions of the game. The gameplay feels way better, and the soundtrack and visuals create a way superior atmosphere than the handheld devices. It was a nice idea, and it the game can certainly make up for a few entertaining minutes, but in the end tablets and smartphones aren’t the ideal devices to play this type of arcade game.