Adrenaline junkies who feel the need—specifically, the need for speed—but don't have access to an actual F-14D or a deluxe arcade cabinet will be gleefully forced to settle for Sega's console port of After Burner Climax, its 2006 aerial dogfighter.
Rarely do Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network games feel as arcade-y as does After Burner Climax, which puts players in control of one of three high speed jetfighters, millions of rounds of artillery and thousands of missiles to dispose of a nuclear threat, shooting down hundreds of enemy airships along the way. After Burner Climax doesn't deviate far from the course set by its arcade predecessors with the exception of the slowly regenerating Climax Meter, which when employed slows down time and temporarily grants the player infinite lock-on missiles.
Other than that mechanical change and a layer of slick graphics, After Burner Climax stays true to its late 80s roots. Whether you'll enjoy it depends on your opinion of, well, After Burner.
Gorgeous High-Speed Thrills: After Burner Climax is graphically orgasmic, with environments ranging from lava-spewing volcanic islands to aurora borealis-lit frozen wastelands, rarely seen between the beautifully rendered smoke trails, explosions and a screen filled with sharply modeled aircraft. It's arcade gaming at its most pretty, a facet of arcade gaming that was incredibly important. After Burner Climax moves at blinding speeds, offering no-frills arcade thrills, better than players of the System 16-based originals likely could have imagined decades prior. Barrel rolls! Explosions! Big combos! More barrel rolls! What more do you want?
A Chaser, Sweet And Sour: For a game that's filled with mechanical carnage and sky-high fireballs, requiring unblinking attention and lightning quick reflexes, After Burner Climax is surprisingly... relaxing. Thanks to unlockable "EX Options," players can make the game casually easier or much, much harder by granting themselves infinite missiles or credit, for example, or turning on one-hit kills. For a more level playing field, there's always the more structured Score Attack, so that you may compare your piloting skills against other players.
Hour of Fun: After Burner Climax is a game thin on options, levels and variety, so players without the drive to play, replay and replay again may find it lacking in content. Playing through a full game of After Burner Climax takes about 10 to 15 minutes, which may be a turn off to anyone now expecting hours (or dozens of hours) of replayability from their downloadable titles. But for the serious After Burner fan or the arcade purist, there is some draw to return to the skies of After Burner Climax in the form of secret levels and better rankings. For those of us who don't feel the urge to one-credit complete our games, the appeal may be lost on us.
After Burner Climax represents an arcade game from a different era, less classic than rare modern curiosity. It's a treat to finally be able to play a game that was largely inaccessible for the fan of Sega and developer AM2's brand of polished arcade thrill, primarily due to the shrinking arcade presence of big, show deluxe cabinets, the type that house games like After Burner Climax so well.
The gloss of After Burner Climax may wear thin quickly, as would almost any 10 minute long amusement. It may be lacking in things like depth, variety, value, multiplayer longevity and options, the things by which many modern gamers deem necessary of their video game purchases, but Sega's port offers an uncommon singular thrill—specifically to play more After Burner.
After Burner Climax was developed by Sega AM2 and published by Sega for Xbox Live Arcade on April 21 and PlayStation Network on April 22. Retails for 800 Microsoft Points and $9.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through Arcade mode six times, Score Attack once on Xbox 360.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.