Before SEGA became a console force they were already one of the industry's premier game developers in the explosive 1980's arcade scene. Not content with churning out the same old games with similar graphics as many other companies were, SEGA pushed the boundaries of the arcade machine. The results of this strive for perfection was some of the most beautiful sprite based games ever seen, such Galaxy Force 2, Space Harrier and Super Monaco GP. All of these games pushed not only how good a game could look, but how fast and how many sprites were possible on screen. The game that took the cake as the fastest and most impressive was a game called After Burner.
After Burner is notable for not only being one of the arcade greats, but for being too fast and too detailed for any game system to render an accurate version of the game until the Saturn was released, a span of eight years. Sadly the series died after only the second installment and a few 3D spin-offs. Now, however, SEGA is bringing back all the great games it once let die, games like NiGHTS into Dreams and Outrun. Of course, most important to me is the rebirth of After Burner. An arcade version, After Burner Climax was there for the SEGA Lindbergh launch last year, and is finally trickling to the States. No word on a port yet, but for now we have to settle for After Burner: Black Falcon, an original PSP game that isn't even developed by SEGA.
Now, this isn't just After Burner 2 with a new coat of paint slapped on, this is truly an updated version of After Burber, re-imagined for a new market and a portable, yet still with that original After Burner feel. Most notable change is the cash system, by blowing up as much as possible you earn money, this money is then spent on new planes and upgrades. Yes, I said new planes, for the first time you can jump into the cockpit of a plane other than the F-14. Eighteen other jets in fact, all officially licensed from United States Armed Forces suppliers. You can slap the obligatory custom paint job on them, but more importantly, you can tweak their performance. Your payload, speed, cannon, how many missiles you fire at once, etc., can all be upgraded through purchases. But before you think After Burner has gone all "thinking man" and tried to be Ace Combat, realize that all these upgrades do is ratchet up the intensity, to a point equal or even surpassing the old arcade game.
The game play that made the original so rewarding is more or less intact here, except for the unfortunate decision that the game has to use every button. L Trigger is air brake, R Trigger is after burner and X is your cannon, that's all fine. Then things stray from the pack, you have a rocket button and a missile button, one targets ground opponents and the other air. That's fine, but my least favorite control change is that instead of double tapping the direction you want to barrel roll, you now have to press triangle, and during your roll you can't fire. This is at first frustrating, especially to long time fans that are pretty well wired on how to play After Burner. Luckily it's not a deal breaker and actually makes the game more intense once you get used to it.
Sound was always a major player in the After Burner experience, great songs and powerful sound effects set a powerful mood, got you excited, and it made the game even better. This is more or less true here, even though the music is less than impressive and sometimes generic (and disappointing for old fans, it's by "Trans Am" and sounds NOTHING like the old tunes). The sound effects are better than ever though, the PSP's great abilities with sound coming into their own here and every explosion and gun shot comes across strong even on the tiny speakers. I actually hooked the PSP to my sound system to get a better listen, and it sounded really, really good. You might be dissapointed to hear that along with the music, the After Burner guy is gone. You'll have to figure out for yourself when to get ready, watch out, and to fire.
Always a visual stunner with great environments, the dev team had some big shoes to fill here. They more or less live up to the pedigree; each mission's environment is varied and detailed. The European towns may be gone, but there are loads of cool environments, each with obstacles to avoid. The artic levels have massive walls of ice and glacier to avoid, for example, and some levels even take you into caves to cut through mountains. The desert level is particularly intense, with pillars of stones, arches and mesa's to avoid. The canyon level also brings back the After Burner canyon run, while it's not a bonus level anymore, it still kicks ass chasing bogeys down passageways and trying to dodge without crashing. The planes are very well modeled, with attention to detail. The F-14's swept wings open and close as you let on and off the after burner. Now I'm positive this game could have looked better, but there was one thing the developers had to keep in mind: how to combine large draw in distances, blazing speed, a dozen bogeys on screen, and ammunition flying everywhere without any slowdown. Well, they succeeded, even as you make your plane fly faster and the game packs more and more on screen as you progress, everything goes smooth. Burnout proved the PSP could do it, and After Burner: Black Falcon continues that.
I mentioned missions, unlike the previous games were you went as far and fast as you could and took down foes for points, After Burner: Black Falcon is arranged for portability into 3-6 minute missions with about 4 objectives per level. For the most part the only thing you HAVE to do is killed the final plane at the end, piloted by a super pilot. (The story is that these pilots stole some prototype planes and you have to down them.) The other objectives are optional, kill so many of a certain enemy type for example, the optional objectives do help unlock stuff for purchase though. Regrettably, there is no straight score attack mode.
It's good that the developers decided to take After Burner and make it their own, and it does work. Although I have a feeling that After Burner enthusiasts may be a bit taken aback by all the changes. Controls, music, game structure, it's all changed in a minor but all somehow still feels like After Burner. For that, I really don't care that they changed everything slightly, I'm just glad that we finally got a great update to the series. But come on, they could have included a classic sound option, Climax did. I anxiously awaited this game from the second it was announced, even though I fully expected it to fail. Luckily I was surprised (as I was with Outrun 2). I fully recommend this game to anyone who wants a great portable arcade style experience, and to the old After Burner fans. If this game does well, as Outrun 2 did, maybe we'll see another great SEGA arcade game brought back. Me? I'd take a new Space Harrier game.
After a long break After Burner returns in full force. Sega may not be the ones behind this resurrection, but that shouldn't stop you from experiencing one of the best shooters on the PSP. After Burner is fast, fun and full of surprises, which makes this a perfect celebration of what made the original game so great!
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!