After Burner, originally released in 1987 by Sega, was a fighter plane shoot em' up defined by an age in which arcades were the primary gaming source for many. The game developed a devoted following because of its addictive nature, arcade controls, and rotating cockpit seating, which immersed players in the game. After a decade long hiatus the series returned in 2006 when After Burner Climax was released in arcades. The decline in arcade popularity pushed Sega to bring the game to PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade on April 21st of this year.
The objective in After Burner Climax is simple - shoot down as many enemies as possible. Those familiar with old school After Burner will be very comfortable playing Climax, as it feels identical, but with high definition graphics. Most flight games allow players to roam around the battlefield, however, Climax takes a very different approach. The game is designed to always keep the player within an invisible, narrow corridor. Although, players do have the ability to maneuver in order to dodge incoming rockets. Climax is able to maintain a corridor without completely breaking the illusion of freedom by constantly thrusting the player forward.
While being propelled forward, waves of enemies will swarm the plane. Fortunately, players have two options to combat them - a machine gun, and lock-on missiles. The machine gun has infinite ammo and the missiles are replenished constantly, so running out of ammo is almost never a problem. One new feature for the After Burner franchise is "Climax time." This allows the player to lock onto numerous enemies at once by activating slow motion for a few seconds.
The combat in Climax is very frantic, and the arcade feel is a nice bit of nostalgia, but there isn't much depth or variety. Enemies behave in a similar way throughout, the only difference is the greater numbers and accuracy in the later stages. The game does toss a couple of different objectives, such as tracking a stealth bomber, or avoiding search lights, to mix things up slightly. Ultimately, the fairly simple gameplay means that After Burner Climax lives and dies on its replayability.
The extremely short campaign, clocking in at maybe 15 minutes, is meant to be replayed countless times to achieve high scores and compete on the online leaderboards. There are a few features, unrelated to score, that could entice some to replay, such as branching paths and EX options. At different points within the campaign players will be given the option of going left or right, each way leading to a different mission. Unfortunately, all missions ultimately lead to the same place, but the option is there nonetheless. EX options are in-game achievements which allow the player to alter the game's difficulty by selecting one hit kills, infinite missiles, or a host of other options. Again, all of these features only matter if players enjoy the core mechanics or wish to get a high score. If not, there really isn't much else to do.
As mentioned above, After Burner Climax looks great. The visual presentation in each environment is very crisp and detailed. Additionally, there is a great deal of variety in each mission - everywhere from industrial complexes, to volcanic mountains, to tropical oceans are represented. It's kind of a shame the game is so fast paced, because there isn't much time to appreciate the environments. This isn't really a complaint, more of an acknowledgment of the work put into crafting levels that are over in a matter of minutes.
After Burner Climax is a competent remake of a classic arcade franchise. The improved visual presentation helps create immersion, and the core mechanics will keep many addicted for quite some time. However, the emphasis on replayability and competition means there isn't much else to Climax if those things don't peak your interest. Fans and competitive players will no doubt have a great fun with this game, for everyone else it's probably safe to pass over.