Sega’s arcade heritage is something they never used to have a hard time capitalizing on. The Genesis enjoyed loads of home versions of arcade hits – Hang On, Outrun, Space Harrier, the Shinobi series, and of course, After Burner. But all the technical trickery employed by the programmers to make those games run on the under-powered Genesis still didn’t keep them from severely lacking in the visuals department. That’s where the Sega CD came in.
In the first wave of Sega CD games (back when they came in cardboard boxes and standard-size jewel cases) was After Burner III. Imagine the excitement! No more of the stuttering, redrawn sprites the Genesis used for 3D motion. The Sega CD could do that stuff on the fly! This was going to be the greatest home version of After Burner ever made!
A lot of the first run Sega CD games were nothing but gussied up Genesis cartridges featuring great, redbook audio soundtracks, and After Burner III was no different. This sluggish mess actually seems to perform a bit worse than some of the later Genesis renditions of Yu Suzuki’s classic arcade games.
And, if you want to get all technical, apparently it really isn’t even an After Burner game in the first place. Rather, it’s a Sega CD port of Strike Fighter, an arcade game released exclusively in Japan. Though any real fan of After Burner could probably tell there was something fishy going on back in the day.
There’s actually a lot to love about this game when you take a look at the feature list – a few different game modes, two different viewing options (though the full plane view obscures way too much of the screen), day and night missions, ground targets, unlimited missiles, and a pretty rockin’ soundtrack.
But none of those great features ever comes together to create anything…well, fun. You just slog along firing at wave after endless wave of enemies, with almost none of the excitement you could find in the first two After Burner games.
I think the most frustrating part of the whole deal is how the game seems to take almost no advantage of the hardware it’s on. While most people would normally point out that any early game on new hardware tends to steer clear of more advanced bells and whistles, the fact that the superb Batman Returns (one of the most impressive bits of Sega CD programmery ever) came out around the same time as After Burner really left me scratching my head at the whole thing.
So yeah…another triumph for the Sega CD. I swear I’ll get to some good games sometime in the near future.