|Platform(s)||Arcade, Master System, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, MSX, Famicom, PC Engine, Sharp X68000, FM Towns, 32X, ZX Spectrum|
|Arcade system||Sega X Board|
After Burner[a] is an arcade vehicular combat game developed and released by Sega in 1987. The player assumes control of an American F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, and must clear each of the game's eighteen unique stages by destroying incoming enemies, using both a machine gun and a limited supply of heat-seeking missiles. It uses a third-person perspective, previously utilized by Sega's earlier games Space Harrier (1985) and Out Run (1986), and runs on the Sega X Board arcade system, which is capable of surface and sprite rotation. It is the fourth Sega game to use a hydraulic "taikan" motion simulator arcade cabinet, one that is more elaborate than their earlier "taikan" simulator games. The cabinet simulates an aircraft cockpit, with flight stick controls, a chair with seatbelt, and hydraulic motion technology that moves, tilts, rolls and rotates the cockpit in sync with the on-screen action.
Designed by Sega veteran Yu Suzuki and the Sega AM2 division, After Burner was intended as being Sega's first "true blockbuster" video game. Development began in December 1986, shortly after the completion of Out Run, and was kept as a closely guarded secret within the company. Suzuki was inspired by the 1986 films Top Gun and Laputa: Castle in the Sky; he originally planned for the game to have a steampunk aesthetic similar to Laputa, but instead went with a Top Gun look to make the game approachable for worldwide audiences. It was designed outside the company in a building named "Studio 128", due to Sega adopting a flextime schedule to allow for games to be worked outside company headquarters. An updated version with the addition of throttle controls, After Burner II, was released later the same year.
After Burner was a worldwide commercial success, becoming Japan's second highest-grossing large arcade game of 1987 and overall arcade game of 1988 as well as among America's top five highest-grossing dedicated arcade games of 1988. It was acclaimed by critics for its impressive visuals, gameplay and overall presentation, and is seen as being important and influential. It was followed by a series of sequels and ports for many platforms, including the Sega Master System, ZX Spectrum and Nintendo Entertainment System. Sega also produced several successors to the game to capitalize on its success, such as G-LOC: Air Battle. After Burner has also been referenced in many other Sega video games, such as Fighters Megamix, Shenmue and Bayonetta.
The game allows the player to control an F-14 Tomcat jet airplane. The player's mission is to destroy enemy jets over 18 stages. At the start of the game, the player takes off from an aircraft carrier called the SEGA Enterprise, which shares a similar name to the one used in the 1986 film Top Gun (also a reference to the company's name at the time, SEGA Enterprises, LTD.).
In the arcade version, the jet employs a machine gun and a limited number of heat-seeking missiles (in the Master System version the player has unlimited missiles). These weapons are replenished by another aircraft, after beating a few stages. The aircraft, cannon and missile buttons are all controlled from an integrated flight stick.
The game itself was released in two variations in the US: a standard upright cabinet and a rotating cockpit version. In the cockpit version, the seat tilted forward and backwards, and the cockpit rotated from side to side. It featured two speakers at head-level for stereo sound, and had a seatbelt to hold the player when the cockpit moved. Both cabinets contained a grey monitor frame with flashing lights at the top that indicated an enemy's "lock" on the player's craft. Japan also received a commander cabinet that moved left and right.
Development and release
After Burner was designed by Yu Suzuki of Sega AM2, with assistance by programmer Satoshi Mifune and composer Hiroshi “Hiro” Kawaguchi. Development of the game begin in early December 1986 shortly after work on Out Run was completed, with much of the development team having worked on Out Run. After Burner was intended as Sega's first "true blockbuster" video game; as such, the project was kept as a closely guarded secret within the company during the entirety of its development cycle. When the game was in its initial concept stages, Sega had adopted a flextime work system, allowing development of games to be done outside the company; After Burner was one of the first games to be produced under this new system, with development taking place in a building named "Studio 128".
Suzuki was inspired by the film Laputa: Castle in the Sky and initially wanted to employ a similar steampunk anime aesthetic for After Burner, but this idea was scrapped early on in favor of a style akin to the movie Top Gun, as Suzuki wanted the game more approachable for a worldwide audience. The game was programmed using a PC-98 system, making it Sega's first video game to be designed using a personal computer rather than a workstation.
One of the biggest challenges the team had to overcome was researching and implementing sprite and surface rotation, which for the time was considered a milestone in video games. The team also struggled with creating the smoke trails made by firing missiles, seeing several tweaks and revisions as development progressed. Unlike their earlier game Out Run, which featured real-world locations in its levels, Suzuki lacked the time to visit any specific places or landmarks, so he and his team made up their own stage settings. Suzuki toyed with the idea of having the Soviet Union as the antagonists to potentially increase sales in the west, but decided against it later on after struggling to tie it together with the game's level designs and settings. The refueling and landing sequences were created to add variety.
The After Burner arcade cabinet was significantly more expensive than most of Sega's other machines at the time. The first prototype unit constructed, which consisted of the monitor attached to a steel frame, was claimed by Mifune to have "amazing power", but was considered too dangerous to operate and had the power levels lowered. Suzuki also thought of the game using a gyroscopic arcade cabinet that spun the player around, an idea that later became the R-360. A throttle control was briefly considered, but was abandoned as it would have destroyed the game's difficulty balance. It uses the Sega X Board, which was also used for games such as Thunder Blade (1987) and Super Monaco GP (1989). After Burner was officially released in Japan in July 1987, and in October of that year in North America. In Europe, it was released in September 1987, with the hydraulic sit-in cabinet costing £4,000, or $6,500 (equivalent to $15,000 in 2020), in the United Kingdom.
The game was ported to the Amiga, MS-DOS, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, X68000, FM Towns, Commodore 64, Master System, PC Engine, Sega Saturn, MS-DOS, MSX, ZX Spectrum. The C64 has two versions: a European version by U.S. Gold, and a US version by Activision and Weebee Games. A port of After Burner to the 32X was done by Rutubo Games, and was known as After Burner Complete in Japan and Europe. An unlicensed NES port of the game developed by Tengen also exists, which was reworked by Sunsoft for their Japanese-exclusive port to the same console. A port of After Burner to the Game Boy Advance was included in an arcade 4 pack named Sega Arcade Gallery.
|Arcade||C64||Master System||PC||Sega Genesis||ZX|
|The Games Machine||Positive|
|1987 Gamest Awards||Best Graphics (1st) |
Game of the Year (2nd)
Most Popular Game (3rd)
Best VGM (4th)
Best Ending (6th)
Best Sound Synthesis (8th)
|1988 AMOA Games Awards||Most Innovative Game|
|1988 Gamest Awards||Special Award|
Game Machine listed After Burner as being the most popular arcade game of August 1987 in Japan, where it went on to be the second highest-grossing large arcade game of 1987 (just below Out Run) and the overall highest-grossing arcade game of 1988. In the United States, it was one of the top five highest-grossing dedicated arcade games of 1988, and remained a top ten earner at various arcades through 1990. In the United Kingdom, it was the top-grossing arcade game upon release in September 1987.
The arcade game received positive reviews from critics. Clare Edgeley of Computer and Video Games called it a "fabulous game" with praise for the gameplay and motion cabinet while noting it has a lock-on mechanic similar to the Data East arcade game Lock-On (1986). Top Score said it has "all the finger-numbing action of the best arcade shoot-em-ups, combined with some of the most stunning animation ever seen in a video game" and that it was "a glossy air combat game that ranks higher than similar efforts that have preceded it". The review called it "one of the most beautiful and realistic shooting games ever produced" with "somewhat shallow" gameplay that is nevertheless "definitively worth the price of admission" especially in the "cockpit simulator" cabinet.
Sinclair User reviewed the arcade game, scoring it 8 out of 10. Ciarán Brennan of Your Sinclair said that, despite the higher price point, don't "let a little thing like a pound coin stand between you and action like this". Robin Hogg of The Games Machine called it the "hottest Sega release so far" with praise for the graphics and gameplay, but with some criticism towards the £1 UK price.
At the 1987 Gamest Awards in Japan, After Burner won the Best Graphics award, while being a runner-up for Game of the Year (2nd place), Best Ending (6th place), Best VGM (4th place), Best Sound Synthesis (8th place) and Most Popular Game (3rd place). After Burner also won a Special Award at the 1988 Gamest Awards. In the United States, After Burner won the award for "Most Innovative Game" at the Amusement & Music Operators Association's 1988 AMOA Games Awards.
Computer Gaming World reviewed After Burner on the Master System, citing aircraft depicted in "remarkable detail", "spectacular" scenery, and excellent explosions. On the ZX Spectrum the 1988 conversion of After Burner by Activision was well-received, with Sinclair User describing it as "top-class coin-op conversion destined for the top of the charts" and giving it 90%, whilst Crash magazine gave it 86% overall. Zzap!64's reviewers were unimpressed with the Commodore 64 version which was described as "incredibly disappointing" with "laughably bad" graphics and sound. It was given an overall rating of 17%. A later Computer Gaming World review for the PC was much more critical, giving the game one star out of five and stating that it was inferior to the arcade version.
Reviewing the 32X version, GamePro commented that the graphics, sound, and gameplay are all great, but that the only difference between it and the Genesis version of After Burner II are some minor graphical and audio enhancements, making it only worthwhile to gamers who have never played an After Burner game before.
After Burner was followed by After Burner II, which was released in the same year. Some consider this game to be more of a revision of its predecessor, rather than an entirely new game, a practice later repeated by Sega for Galaxy Force and Galaxy Force II.
Although the After Burner brand was long dormant, Sega created a number of aerial combat games centered on the F-14 Tomcat with many similar features, which are frequently regarded as part of the series. These include G-LOC: Air Battle and its sequel Strike Fighter (later rebranded After Burner III in its home release). Later games associated with the series include Sky Target (which retained similar gameplay and presentation to the original, but with the addition of 3D graphics) and Sega Strike Fighter (an arcade flight combat game which featured free-roaming movement, boasting similar music but with an F/A-18 Hornet as the main plane).
After Burner Climax was later ported to Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. It was followed by the spin-off After Burner: Black Falcon for the PSP in 2007. After Burner Climax was de-listed in December 2014, leaving the game no longer available for purchase, only to be brought back in March 2019 to digital platforms for free, with ads, under the Sega Forever brand.
In other games
The music from After Burner appears in a remix in Chapter 8, entitled "Route 666", of Bayonetta (developed by PlatinumGames and published by Sega). This remix is reused in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Bayonetta stage, Umbra Clock Tower.
In other media
The arcade version appears in the 1991 movie Suburban Commando, starring Hulk Hogan (as Shep Ramsey), who plays the game in an arcade scene; however, he and a child who were playing it acted as if it was a space shooter game instead.
The deluxe cabinet appears in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, being played by John Connor as the T-1000 searches for him at the Galleria.
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