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After Burner (Sega Master System) artwork

After Burner (Sega Master System) review


"This game hardly warrants five minutes of your time. While it’s true that Sega had imposed upon its underpowered Master System the difficult task of representing powerful arcade blockbusters that utilized cabinet gimmicks (such as the coin-op Afterburner’s cockpit arrangement) on the small screen at home, that’s no excuse for this sub-sub par effort. The port of Golden Axe was great, Shinobi was good, Hang On was decent, and hell, even the game that was slower than ex-rap star Mase’s delivery, Altered Beast, showed more promise. "



As bad as it gets

In the ultra realistic classic cartoon television series, G.I. ''the parachutes always work'' Joe, crack F-14 Tomcat pilot Ace would switch on the afterburners to produce increased speed. In the gaming world during the late eighties, Sega would convert the game Afterburner to their home console to produce the worst Master System game ever. (If it ain’t, it’s pretty close.)

This game hardly warrants five minutes of your time. While it’s true that Sega had imposed upon its underpowered Master System the difficult task of representing powerful arcade blockbusters that utilized cabinet gimmicks (such as the coin-op Afterburner’s cockpit arrangement) on the small screen at home, that’s no excuse for this sub-sub par effort. The port of Golden Axe was great, Shinobi was good, Hang On was decent, and hell, even the game that was slower than ex-rap star Mase’s delivery, Altered Beast, showed more promise.

To the point, Afterburner features an F-14 Tomcat on some mission of mercy or another. We are treated to a behind-the-plane view, like Space Harrier. There’s an inherent problem with this view to begin with. The systems of the day had trouble with giving us realistic depth perception--so don’t expect Starfox.

As one of the few positives, in a purely visual sense, your plane is probably the best thing about the game. Things tail off from there, steeply. As decent as it looks, the Tomcat controls poorly. And you’d think it would be simple enough to get right. To bank left, press left. To bank right, press right. To point your nose up, press down, and to dive, press up. The only ‘advanced’ technique is the barrel roll. To execute it, you must begin a banking maneuver to one side, and then quickly bank hard in the other direction. The plane should turn, wing over wing, upside down, and then right side up again. Here’s where the five minutes of coolness comes in.

See, it’s fun to pull the barrel roll off a few times in the early going. You might even feel like Ace while you’re doing it. But then you start to realize that it doesn’t always work when called upon. Worse yet, sometimes when you’re not trying to do it, it happens anyway, and since there’s no reversing it once your plane is in motion, you may inadvertently end up having your craft right itself at the precise moment that an enemy missile welcomes itself into your canopy. Not good.

If the control could be overlooked, the sheer banality of the backdrops and adversaries cannot be. Enemy planes define the word nondescript, but the scenes… well they’re something else. The playfield is divided horizontally by a horizon line. Above the line, naturally, is the sky. Below, is the ground. That’s it. There are no mountains to dodge, no tall buildings to gawk at, no scenery down below. Both layers, top and bottom, are completely flat and bare. The only thing differentiating one from thirteen, are the colours.

Good ol’ palette swapping. What would we do without you? Want to try the standard Afterburner level? Well the sky is aqua, and the ground is brown. How about the desert? The sky is reddish-brown, and the ground is… brown. Do you feel that chill? Must be Arctic regions ahead! A blue sky and white ground area will tell us that (white equals snow). And when flying over water… well, you get the picture. And it’s not a pretty one.

Basically, the 18 level snore fest is comprised of one level repeated over and over. Random washed out aircraft fly simplistic patterns around your plane, cluttering the vapid panorama. They fire missiles, you bank to dodge them. In later levels, banking won’t lose them, and you’ll have to shoot the oncoming projectiles down, or barrel roll every time. And we already know how reliable doing that is.

Every so often, a large airplane will come to provide fuel to your plane. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise is, other than bringing your sad control of your plane-on-rails to light. Good luck hooking up reliably. The other type of interruption Sega programmed in are the bosses. These are massive aircraft, not so much unlike the fuel carriers, only they loose volley upon volley of missile clusters at you. If you found the fuel hook up exercise imprecise, the bosses will absolutely confound you with their clumsiness.

Don’t buy Afterburner. Don’t even try it. A good deal of Sega Master System owners found their consoles equipped with the simplistic Hang On. At the time, I remember thinking, ''is this all there is to it?'' It featured only a handful of levels: the daytime, the nighttime, the desert, and so on (again, with the palette swapping), and these stretches would be repeated, getting a little harder with every loop. But there were landmarks in the distance, and light posts and the like would mark the road, giving you the illusion of forward motion. Afterburner has none of this.

If you should somehow, unluckily stumble into a bout with this game, and forget all the horrible shortcomings I’ve mentioned, the reasons as to why you shouldn’t play--the single, simple, ingratiating tune that plays incessantly should offer you a constant reminder.

Rating: 1/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (January 12, 2004)

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