PUBLISHER: Dempa (JP), Sega (US, EU)
DEVELOPER: Sega (port by Dempa)
RELEASE DATE: 03/23/90 – (JP), 07/90 – (US), 04/91 – (EU)
After Burner… II? Sega would like you to think so, but no. This isn’t a brand new entry in the franchise, but an upgrade to the original; like Street Fighter II Turbo was to Street Fighter II. After Burner II adds throttle control, three new levels, more missiles, and considerably more enemy planes. Not enough to warrant the Roman numeral “II”, but the throttle control in particular makes for a better experience.
For those who haven’t experienced the original After Burner, you control an F-14 Skycat and your mission is to destroy any plane you see in and around God’s blue yonder. You have two weapons, an unlimited-round Vulcan 20mm cannon that fires automatically and a limited missile trove. You might think that the automatic fire would make the game easier, but this is not the case. Enemy planes bombard you from all directions and many of them won’t go down without a locked-on missile to the face.
After Burner was best experienced in the arcade via the infamous sit-down moving cabinet. As you steered the plane all over creation with the flight stick, your seat rotated horizontally while the cockpit rotated vertically. This visceral body jolting was thrilling, and it was also the best way to cover up the game’s limitations. Take away the rollercoaster cabinet and you’re left with a repetitive shooter, hampered particularly by the behind-the-plane camera that hinders your field of vision.
After Burner II keeps the same limited camera view, but the ability to speed up or slow down with the throttle control is a significant boon. You’re no longer forced to watch helplessly as a missile careens toward your weak Skycat shell. While speeding up is usually the best course of action to avoid groups of missiles, Sega doesn’t allow the player to abuse their new powers. There are more planes than ever before in each level, and getting through them requires a mixture of your own missile attacks, speeding away, and/or twisting recklessly through the shrapnel.
At its best, After Burner II makes you feel like you’re surviving the worst air battles of your generation. Maneuvering foolishly through a dozen planes – all of which have launched missiles at you – and coming out the other side intact will get your heart racing.
That being said, the game does occasionally drift downwards into the Unfair Valley. Even if you’re able to control your janky Skycat with grace, locking on to more than a couple planes at a time is difficult, if not impossible. Later levels also add planes with increasing frequency, giving you little time to lock onto them. You’ll be lucky to get a couple missiles launched before you have to tuck your plane into whirlybird overdrive and avoid the carnage entirely.
After Burner II doesn’t differ enough from its predecessor to earn that “II,” but it is the best home version of After Burner I’ve ever played. The throttle control provides an additional depth that the original After Burner lacked and gives the sense that, if you master speeding up and slowing down at the right moments, you just might come out on top. Clearly the arcade, with its shakes, rattles and rolls, is the preferred way to immerse yourself in a dogfight. But if you’re actually looking to play the game and not just waste your laundry money, this Genesis port will teach you how to fly with the best of ’em.