Back in my early days as a gamer, a friend sat me down in front of a Sega Master System to play After Burner. It wasn't long before I graduated to After Burner 2 on the same friend's Mega Drive. Anyone who's played either of these games will know what to expect from Climax.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, After Burner is an on-rails shooter which makes no pretence at being a “flight sim” beyond the jets looking like their real-world counterparts. You move the plane both to dodge missiles and to aim the targeting reticule.
Your machine guns will only hit a target while it’s in the centre of the reticule, but as soon as it touches them, they'll be painted with a missile lock. Missiles will automatically track enemies in the order they were painted, and the correct number of missiles will always fire at each target, making the pattern of lock-and-fire the main focus of your attack strategy. Taking down enemies in rapid succession like this also builds your combo counter, giving a score boost.
Climax has a few features its predecessors didn't, but the basics are unchanged. You're still flying a jet at ridiculous speeds over various environments, shooting down enemy planes and occasionally destroying ground-based structures.
You still carry more missiles than an airfield, and apparently the trees they grow on are planted inside your plane to keep you stocked. When you switch sharply from one side to the other, you'll do a barrel roll, which prevents you from aiming or dodging properly, but looks awesome.
The sense of speed has been faithfully reproduced from the originals, but with a current-gen facelift, the sensation that you're going really fast is amplified. The textures on the ground look good at the distance you're seeing them from, but the enemy planes and missiles (the only things you'll see close-up) are the real stars – particularly when you're caught from behind and have to outrun and outmanoeuvre something on your tail. Also, these chase moments manage to actually make the barrel roll useful, something its presence was distinctly lacking in the previous After Burner games.
The sound in this game isn't up to the same standard as the graphics, mainly because of the voices. I'm not sure they used real people for the voicework, and the translation is terrible. The narrator’s voice is the most overacted "dramatic voiceover" I've come across in a recent game, and yet, because of the arcade feel, it almost fits... until they inevitably take it a little too far.
The most obvious new feature of the game is the titular Climax mode, in which time slows down Matrix-style, missiles are infinite (instead of being merely almost infinite) and your targeting reticule gets supersized.
There is, of course, a climax gauge to limit this mode that gradually builds over time, with a slight boost for each enemy downed. Also, each playthrough in Arcade mode can unlock new EX Options that affect almost every aspect of its gameplay.
Additionally, there's a Score Attack mode that allows you to play with default settings, but with unlimited lives, so you can try for the highest score possible. The last addition is one I'm sorely tempted not to mention. You have three planes to choose from, with four colour schemes for each. Unfortunately, the only non-aesthetic difference between planes is that winning with each gives you a different trophy.
In spite of how good the game is at what it does, it still doesn't offer much. I had every trophy and all but one EX Option after only five hours of play. At almost $20, some gamers might feel this deserved to be a Minis title for half the price, but I'd disagree. I may not want to sit and play it all day, every day, but it's a game I'll come back to any time I’m hungry to have speed and devastating power at my fingertips.
This game is a welcome addition to the franchise, a genuine old-school arcade experience brought into the HD era. The changes are enough to keep the game fresh without losing sight of its roots.
If you're an old fan of the series, Climax is a good way to bring the nostalgia up-to-date, but for those used to getting more out of current-gen titles than an arcade sense of speed, it may not be worth the asking price.