I actually discovered After Burner II from watching Terminator 2. In the film John Connor was playing it in the arcade and something about it caught my eye. The visuals, the speed, and the action attracted me so naturally I looked up what the game was. This is not a flight simulator by any means but a fast-paced action game that requires quick thinking. The actual After Burner II cabinet is designed like a cockpit and moves around in relation to the fighter jet your piloting. I never really visited the arcades as a kid but had I seen one of these things I would have been impressed. It was ported to many consoles but the Saturn version is by far one of the best ports of the game. The Sega Genesis version is pretty good but lacks the speed and intensity the game is known for.
I have no idea if there is an actual storyline in After Burner II but you fly an F-14 Tomcat and must shoot down tons of enemies or at least avoid their fire and hopefully make it to the end of each stage. You have unlimited machine gun ammo and it’s highly recommended you set that to auto fire as you’ll never be letting go of the fire button. You’re also given a limited number of missiles to use and every few stages you’ll automatically be able to restock your missiles thanks to a friendly plane that appears overhead. The game is on rails and you can fly at different speeds but you’ll always be flying ridiculously fast. Enemy fighters will appear in front and even come from behind you with the intent to shoot you down and as you’re flying around the screen you can automatically lock on to multiple enemies enabling you to fire homing missiles at them. You’ll need to dodge and perform barrel rolls to avoid enemy fire which can be hard to do due to the sheer speed of the gameplay. You’re forced to act quickly and one wrong move will result in your death. One hit and you’re dead and I can’t tell you how many times my jet was hit and I didn’t even see the missile coming. The enemies are all pretty much the same but you can also take them down in one hit so mastering when to dodge and attack is key. Like I said, keeping the machine guns on auto fire is almost necessary. From what I understand there is specific patterns you can fly to avoid everything but only a master of the game would know these patterns so you’ll need to invest some serious time and memorize the enemy attacks to know when to dodge and attack.
After Burner II was released in 1987 and it’s definitely reflected in it’s visuals but that’s not to say the game looks bad. The sprite work is great with vibrant colors and smooth animations. Watching the jets explode or seeing your jet take a dive into the ground only to explode on impact and leave a trail of fire is really cool. Firing a ton of missiles into oncoming enemies will look awesome as you whiz past the trails of smoke and explosions. There’s significant pop-in but because the game moves extremely fast you may not even notice. You’ll see enemy fighters, missiles, and smoke in the sky, and a few different ground environments that you’ll fly over or crash into. One of the earlier stages has you flying at night and it’s cool to see the lights on the ground below as you battle in the night sky. I didn’t notice any frame rate drops and the game runs super smooth on the Saturn. The only issue I do have with the game is the controls. Banking can be way too sensitive with a standard Sega Saturn controller but if you have the Sega Mission Stick then you’re golden and After Burner II is one of the few games that support it. Sadly, nothing can replicate the arcade cockpit but if I could find and afford one I would definitely get it. The music is pretty good and there’s a few catchy tunes that may get stuck in your head. The “enter your initials” screen that appears after a game over has the most memorable song and since you’ll be seeing that screen a lot the song may become embedded in your brain.
After Burner II was recently ported to the 3DS worldwide in 2015 and I would go as far to say that the 3DS version is the best port of the game due its wealth of new features. It’s also a lot easier to obtain. The Saturn version was only released in Japan and to play it on a North American Saturn you’ll need an Action Replay cartridge but it’s well worth the purchase if you’re a fan of the game or even a collector. Using a standard Saturn controller will work but if you can find the Sega Mission Stick then you’re better off playing with that instead thanks to superior flight controls. In the end After Burner II is one of the coolest arcade games and requires quick thinking and memorization to master. It’s a fun, fast-paced, action game that should fuel anyone’s thirst for speed.