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Sonic Speed Review – After Burner Climax (Xbox Live Arcade)

May 16, 2010

Not hiding anything here, this was my first ever downloaded arcade game. Lucky I was pretty impressed.


Shoot the baddies, go really fast.... yeah, that's all I got.

After Burner Climax is something of a summary of everything I feel an arcade game should be. Sleek and simple, fairly straightforward, short but challenging, and very addictive.  Any arcade game that’s missing these features suffered some sort of messed up botch-up somewhere in the development department. Myself being an home-console, physical copy, shiny-disk player and a late arrival to the digital age along with the Xbox Live Arcade, I’m wasn’t really sure what arcade games were meant to be these days, but this felt like I was playing a game that knew exactly what it wanted and needed to be anyway, which is an adrenaline-fuelled, amusingly overdramatic white-knuckle ride with the pulse-pounding excitement that comes with flying a jet-plane capable of Mach 1 and armed with unlimited ammunition. If that didn’t have the edge enough, now comes the Climax Mode…

This series first saw debut way back in ’87, and was essentially the same thing as we have now. Since then there have been After Burner II and III and the original After Burner Climax build, and here we fly once again with After Burner Climax for Xbox Live Arcade. The game propels you forward, and gives you the tools to move your plane up, down, side to side, and acc/decelerate with the right and left trigger respectively.  The bad guys shoot missiles at you, you shoot missiles at them, you get the picture.

But it’s the pace, the vibrancy, the unlockable’s and, of course, the Climax mode, that makes that straightforward formula pretty darn entertaining. The game is really very fast, which definitely took me by surprise the first time I jumped in the cockpit. You get about three seconds to shoot the nuke-heaving bad-guys (apparently, there’s something about a nuclear strike from a military called ‘Z’ at the beginning and a nuke war at the end, but you don’t pay much attention to this shaky but amusing little scrap of plot over the pulse-pounding, frenzied jet-plane shooting) before they zoom past, and if you’re not frosty with your dodging then you’ll be smoking heap of military machinery two seconds after. Actually, the dodging is one thing I could probably condemn this game for – it works fine, it definitely does, but instead of ‘bank left, then bank right sharply to roll and dodge’, it’s more like ‘bank left, then bank right and cross your fingers that the bad-guys were looking down their noses when they pulled the trigger’. To dodge you just schizophrennicaly scamper around the screen, looking for incoming missiles while simultaneously searching for baddies to blast. It can all get a bit cluttered, but that’s the ‘over-dramatic’ part of it. There can be anything up to about 80 bad-guys in a level, and when the levels are only a few minutes long, that’s a lot of bad-guys coming in hot.

You shoot the missiles with the ‘X’ button, and shoot the machine gun with the ‘A’, but there are unlockables called ‘Ex-options’ to make your life easier or harder. They are substantially easy to unlock, too, so there’s little mucking around. The Climax Mode can be activated with the ‘RB’ emote, which slows time and widens the crosshairs, hold the ‘X’ button whilst waving the reticule over the enemy aircraft, and let it rip – which comes in handy when those dozens of baddies are coming in hot. It makes you feel a little god-like seeing a dozen enemies burst into flames simultaneously a second after the Climax Mode has been activated. Your Climax Gauge refills automatically, but once you’ve unlocked the ‘fast Climax gauge repletion’ life in the sky becomes very easy. The ‘Ex options’ generally make your life easy, and are not just fun but actually achievable for casual gamers to unlock, and don’t require hours of meticulous skill refining or map searching just to crack.

Speaking of life in the sky, it’s actually very sleek. I’ve played non-arcade games with aesthetics less shiny than this, and even when you go supersonic or have the screen filled with fighter-jets all doing different maneuvers, the framerate holds seamlessly. Going supersonic is an understandably fun feature – and, yes, it’s worth taking a few missiles to the cockpit just to see that bloom of white, burst of sound, and drop your jaw in disbelieving awe as the landscape turns to mush while you blast forwards. The breakneck speeds all add to the thrill of this single-player, soaring shoot-em-up. What can get irritating, however, is your wingmans (which do absolutely nothing, I might add) constant bleating – sure, when the lady-wingman calls ‘incoming twelve o’cklock’ there actually is an incoming at twelve o’clock, but seeing as the only variance this game witnesses is decided by the players choices this isn’t particularly amazing, and the constant ‘bank-left!’ or ‘bank right!’ can really grate on the ears.

There are all sorts of extra options like ‘Score Attack Mode’ and the training exercises which all add to the fun. The most prominent one is the choice of planes, there’s the Super Tomcat, Super Hornet and Strike Eagle – and all three are virtually the same gameplay-wise but for their different structures. Each has four different paint jobs, and personally I just went with the Super Tomcat most of the time because I thought it looked the coolest (which it undoubtedly does).

After Burner Climax is very straightforward, utilising a fairly shallow gameplay system, yet still takes off in considerable style with an addictive gameplay and entertaining replay value. Holding it above a mediocre score is the not original but fun nonetheless Climax Mode, and the ‘Ex Options’ to equip the player with either handicaps or advantages. And what you have to love about this game is the lack of cheap little gimmicks, insincere in their entertainment value, meant to elevate the game to be something new and better – After Burner Climax knows what it want sto be and really fixes that theme of an arcade game in its crosshairs, hitting the mark with precision. It’s frenzied, over-enthusiastic and hyper-exaggerated, but that’s all part of the fun of the tumultuous jet-plane flying. If you’ve got 800 Microsoft points weighing you down, this is a definite worthwhile spend for you to experience some arcade gold.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 16, 2010 11:22 am

    Really cool review!

    I must definitely check AFC out as soon as I can 🙂

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