What I’m Playing: After Burner II (Sega Saturn)

The enemy is attacking, and you have one mission: shoot everything that moves. In fact, shoot some things that don’t move. If something moving is shooting at you, dodge it. If something is moving in front of you, shoot it! If something is moving behind you, let it get in front of you. Then shoot it!!!

This is what After Burner II is like. That’s not to say it’s mindless action, but… well… actually yes it is mindless action. And that is why this arcade game works. It promises nothing but action, and then it delivers. The game starts off by launching your fighter from an aircraft carrier right into an onslaught of enemy fighters. The game starts off tough, and only gets harder.

After Burner II
Lock-on to all the things!!!

After Burner II was originally an arcade game by Sega that came out in 1987. It is more of a minor improvement to the first After Burner, with the addition of some features such as a throttle. But for all intents and purposes, they’re both very similar.

After Burner II for Sega Saturn is a port of the arcade game, and it’s a nearly perfect replication. It’s interesting that it took 8 years for a console to be able to look and play as well as an arcade game from years before, but once you see this game in motion, you’ll understand. There is a LOT going on in this game, and it’s not hard to believe that it takes something is beefy as Sega’s 2D powerhouse to run the full version accurately and smoothly. In fact, I still find it hard to believe that a game that looks this good even existed in 1987!

After Burner II
The game looks fantastic, and even with constant action/explosions, there’s rarely any slowdowns or hiccups on the Saturn

The name of the game is really quite simple; shoot or be shot. Your fighter has 2 different weapons, including a machine gun for shooting close up targets, and missiles for locking on and firing at far away targets. However, far away targets can lock on to you too, so if you don’t get them first, you must dodge whatever they fire at you.

After Burner II
I’ve seen worse looking explosions in modern big budget AAA titles

Have I mentioned this game is hard? Well I bring it up again. In old-school arcade style, this game starts out difficult and only gets harder. That’s not to say it’s unfair, as it is possible to get better in the game. As most arcade games go, the replay value is in the challenge, and this game doesn’t disappoint. You will die. A lot. But even the deaths include massive screen-filling explosions, or dramatic crashes onto the landscape below.

After Burner II
About to crash into the forest below


However, the action is actually split up a bit by different events. Occasionally, your fighter will have to reload via another jet. Other time you’ll actually land for a moment. These small breaks help keep the game from feeling like too much action (which, in all honesty, the game is already approaching that line).

After Burner II
The game does give you the occasional break.

PROTIP: A couple of times in the campaign, the game has you flying through canyons avoiding the walls. I figured out fairly recently, that you can shoot the things on the canyon floor for points!

After Burner II
All those things on the ground, are they on our side, or are they the enemy? Who cares! Shoot them for points!!!
After Burner II
You can shoot tanks, trucks, tents, towers, and even things that don’t start with T!

One of my favorite things about After Burner II (along with After Burner) is how it’s been ported to so many systems. Of course, prior to Sega Saturn the full After Burner and After Burner II  had to be simplified to be playable on whatever console it was being ported to at the time. This means that there are nearly two dozen different versions of this game that all highlight the different strengths and weaknesses of each system. I find it fascinating that there can be one series that has been ported from NES all the way to Xbox 360 andPlaystation 3 (Afterburner Climax), and even 3DS with little change in gameplay.

In fact the folks at Gaming History Source have put together a video with footage most of the different versions of After Burner. This video includes:

  • Arcade
  • NES
  • ZX Spectrum
  • MSX
  • Amstrad CPC
  • Commodore 64
  • Sega Master System
  • Atari ST
  • Gameboy Advance
  • Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
  • Amiga
  • Turbografx 16
  • Sega 32X
  • FM Towns
  • Sharp X6800
  • Sega Saturn
  • Sega CD

There’s also a Dreamcast version, a 3D Playstation 2 version, and the newer After Burner Climax for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, which are all not in this video. There is even a 3D Classics 3DS version, but it’s Japan only for now (c’mon Sega, what’s the holdup!)

So I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m mentioning all these other versions in an overview of the Sega Saturn version of the game. The reason I bring up the numerous other versions is because of all the versions I’ve played, the Sega Saturn version is my favorite. Why?

  1. The game is almost pixel perfect to the arcade, yet runs smoother than the 32X version.
  2. Using the 3D Gamepad, you get actual analog controls.
  3. The Sega Saturn is an awesome console!
  4. Although the 32X version has the same visuals, it doesn’t’ run at the same high framerate the Sega Saturn can achieve.
  5. Unlike the Dreamcast version, the Saturn version will save high scores.
  6. Although the Playstation 2 and Sega CD got 3D graphics, it almost seems like an act of desecration to scrap these gorgeous pixel graphics.
  7. Did I mention the Sega Saturn is awesome?
All the After Burner series games in my collection, including After Burner Climax for Android. I wouldn’t recommend Climax for Android or iOS…

So yeah, maybe I’m a bit biased when it comes to the Sega Saturn, but I do see this as the definitive home console version. It just feels so natural when played with the 3D Gamepad. However, there is just one problem. As far as I have been able to tell, this game only came out for Saturn in Japan. 🙁

So this means you’ll have to either have a Japanese Saturn, or an Action Replay 4M Plus. Personally, I have an Action Replay, which allows the Saturn to play imported games. Also, the Action Replay includes a built in RAM expansion for the Saturn (which some games can take advantage of), and it includes extra save space for games.

Sega Saturn and Afterburner II
Fun times were had

Sega always had a knack for stupid fun, and this game is no exception. If you’re into arcade pickup-and-play games, games with a history, or if you’re into high scores and leaderboards, then this would be an excellent game for you. If you want something with a deeper story, or high replay value, then After Burner II is probably not what you’re looking for.

After Burner II
Who needs exposition when you’ve got explosions?
 Note: Although I do own a legitimate copy of the game and hardware, the images used on this post were taken using an emulator.

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