Title: After Burner (some versions are titled After Burner II)
Developer: Sega-AM2
Publisher: Sega
Date Published: July 1987
Platforms: Arcade* (Hardware: X Board)

*The game (and its 'sequels', see below) was subsequently ported to a wide range of home platforms including: Sega Mega Drive (as After Burner II), 32X, Sega CD (as After Burner III), Sega Master System, Sega Saturn (as After Burner II), Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM PC, TurboGrafx 16, Nintendo Entertainment System (published by Tengen), Game Boy Advance (as part of Sega Arcade Gallery) and ZX Spectrum.

Following the successes of Hang-On, Space Harrier and Out Run in the previous two years, Yu Suzuki's AM2 R&D department brought out another seminal arcade 'thrill-ride' based on broadly similar technology. After Burner puts the player in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet. The on-screen action is viewed from a third-person chase camera, with the aircraft travelling 'into' the screen (the three-dimensional effect being created by using extremely rapid hardware sprite scaling). Control of the plane is limited, in a similar manner to Space Harrier- it continually travels towards the horizon, with the joystick simply allowing the player to bank and roll to avoid incoming missiles.

After Burner is unashamedly a shoot-'em-up, challenging the player to shoot down wave after wave of enemy planes, and occasionally confront bosses (typically, a B-52 flying fortress). As the player travels further through the game, the scenery changes and time progresses, with the sky gradually darkening and lightening again. Every few stages the plane is given the change to attempt mid-air refueling, which nets the player a bonus and replenished ammunition. At the very beginning of the game the F-14 takes off from an aircraft carrier (the Sega Enterprise), and (if I remember correctly) lands there again at certain stages of the game.

The game shipped in a custom sit-down cabinet (of which there were a couple of different variants to suit different budgets). The chair of this cabinet was motorised so that the player could be tilted on the horizontal and vertical axes in correspondence with the action on screen. The cabinet was also fitted with lights that would flash when an enemy missile locked on- at which point a 360° roll would have to be performed at the right moment to break the lock. There was also a stand-up version of the game, which would have been far less exciting to play but at least retained some haptic feedback on the joystick.

After Burner was a very commercially successful game, and the brand recognition that it accrued prompted licensees to port the game many home computers and consoles (some of which are listed above- of course Sega handled the versions for their own consoles themselves). The wisdom of this was in some cases rather questionable as After Burner was a game that was particularly well suited to the arcade and not the home machines of the time. It was reliant on brute force processing power, a motorised cabinet and loud stereo sound, limiting the impact that even an accurate port could have. Worse still, the actual structure of the game is highly repetitive and requires little skill, and is more suited to quick bursts than prolonged play. But still the developers of the home versions soldiered on, with the (hopelessly inadequate) 8-bit cassette-based versions making a particularly valiant effort to get at least one element of the game arcade perfect: they included a recording of the arcade soundtrack on the other side of the tape.

Real, honest-to-goodness arcade perfect versions of After Burner were eventually developed for the Sega 32X and the Sega Saturn. It is also possible to run the game via emulation (it is supported by the Final Burn and MAME emulators and probably others). Failing that, you can play the game if you find an After Burner arcade cabinet in Shenmue II.

There is some confusion surrounding the various versions of After Burner. The original arcade version underwent a revision after only a few months, making minor improvements to the sound and graphics and adding a throttle control. This version is refered to by AM2 as 'After Burner II', although it is really only an incremental upgrade. Most of the internationally distributed cabinets (labelled 'After Burner') were based on this version of the game. The first home version of the game (for the Sega Master System, 1988) was titled 'After Burner'. The Sega Mega Drive version released in 1990 was titled After Burner II, presumably to differentiate it from the Master System version (it was a significantly more accurate port, but again basically the same game). The only version of the game that was a true sequel was CSK's After Burner III for the Sega CD, which combines elements from After Burner and G-LOC.

Sega-AM2 would return to the arcade jet combat theme three years later with the games G-LOC and Strike Fighters, and again (much later) with the Aerodancing series (now on its fourth installment). Namco have also made some entries into this sub-genre in the PlayStation era with their Acecombat series. Although Sega are currently engaged in a spree of resurrecting old properties, there is no new version of After Burner currently planned. UPDATE: In late 2005, Sega announced a new After Burner game, called After Burner Climax, is to be released on the Lindbergh arcade hardware.

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