Game 10: Afterburner II (SEGA, 1987)

Playing rules: Difficulty: Normal. Start: 3 lives. Continues: Not allowed
Dip Switch Bank A: 1-8 = OFF
Dip Switch Bank B: 1-2 = Depends on if Upright or moving; 3 = ON; 4 = OFF; 5=ON; 6-8=OFF

Current Record holders:
1st: 68,588,000 - November Kelly - 1988
2nd: 505,050 - Jimmy Cardenas - 1997

Woah there cowboy. Afterburner 2? What happened to Afterburner 1?
Well, it would seem that there are no records in the book for the original game, just the sequel – No idea why but I can’t say I’m that upset because I’ve always disliked the poxy game. I remember seeing the first one in the arcade and remembering how damn good it looked for the time. I mean, there’s no denying the game is smooth and frantic and the crashes I remember being the most spectacular – especially the ones where you don’t blow up immediately and instead plow into the ground digging a ditch into the earth as you crash. The game though; It was fun to a point but for me all it boiled down to was wiggling the (admitedly fine looking) joystick about and hoping that luck would prevent you from being shot down. It just seemed so random and of course I was rubbish at it (you might be able to spot a theme there).

Not so for the marvelously named “November Kelly”. That’s a score right there – I don’t even need to know the scoring system to see that. Add to that the frankly gargantuan gap between the top score and the 2nd place. You know what? If I was the chap who posted that 2nd place score 9 years after the 68 million effort then I would do everything to make sure my score wasn’t listed. Even if it meant kicking the plug socket of the machine as the referee was noting it down in his book. Ok, the guy can say he is 2nd at the world at Afterburner 2, and he can reap all of the groupies and live the rock and roll lifestyle that this undoubtably brings – but surely he can’t sleep at night with it being written in a record book that his score is more than a 100 times less than the 1st place?

Saying that of course I am in no doubt whatsoever that I will stink the place up at this game.

For those of you that haven’t played either game, it’s pretty simple. You fly a F14 plane thingie towards the screen in a 3d affair with the obviously layered but good-for-the-time floor zooming past you. You’re clearly rather cheesed off with all of the other planes knocking about and have decided that they need a good shooting.  Control wise you have a shoot button and a missile button that occasionally locks on to enemy planes and is rather handy indeed. Doing a bit of research apparently one of the very few changes between Afterburner 1 and 2 is that you now also have a throttle control which can vary your speed to a limited extent – although I can’t see how that will make much difference to be honest. That’s pretty much it, so lets go.

Ah bless – that’s a trip down memory lane. Only those of you old enough will remember this, but in the late 80’s where the AtariST and Amiga home computers were just coming out, there was a craze for 3d pictures made out of balls. Nothing rude or anything so take your hands away from the kiddie’s eyes (I said *eyes*) – literally 3D moving animations made from plenty of shaded balls. *Loads* of public domain demos had a 3d ball section somewhere in there and I remember being wowed by some of the more complicated ones. What’s that? Get to the point grandad? Well I say all of this because the Afterburner games have one of these ball beauties as their title screens and very pretty they are too.

Ahem, so the game.

As I say, I’ve never liked this game – it all feels so bloody random and I have to say within 20 seconds of my first go it all comes flooding back. I just can’t seem to find a technique that manages to beat the flapping around like a special needs fish method (patent pending). I can’t really put my finger on it but it might be due to the fact that it’s hard to judge just whats going on and picking out what you should be shooting and what you should be dodging is tricky at best. So, I flap about a bit, shoot some things and the 3 lives are over pretty quickly. One thing that I hadn’t noticed before was the way the score is calculated. The score actually acts like a counter that increases at a suprisingly fast rate, seemingly arbitrarily. Shooting things doesn’t seem to directly add any score at all so maybe I have it all wrong, maybe survival is the key and I should focus more on the fish flap that the shooting (not that I can really focus on the shooting any less).

Hang on though, look at that score. That’s almost the 2nd place score and I had an absolute shocker.

Score: 406,930

Controversially I decide to actually try and play the game rather than flap about. One of the things that I did notice playing the game at home rather than the arcade is that you can actually see the game a bit better. Maybe the arcade machine, with it’s fancy-dan control stick in the shape of a proper plane one or indeed the full hydraulic jobby, was simply too distracting. With a score as low as that in 2nd place I think the game deserves to be taken a little bit more seriously, so I shall attempt to try and play the game properly.

My theory is this. The game can be boiled down to a series of enemy “waves”. Usually a couple of planes appear as dots in the distance and then scream toward you. Once that’s done, same happens again. Sometimes the planes appear from behind you and then stream away, but the theory is the same. Tactic therefore is to try and get as many of the planes locked with missiles heading their way before they get close enough to start shooting. Then, when the ones that are left do get some missiles away, forget shooting and flap about a bit.

Ok, that’s the plan – and fuck me backwards if it doesn’t actually make some sense when I start playing. In a proper Scrooge moment I start to rather enjoy the game – a game that I have pretty much hated for 20 years ( although not to exaggerate, I didnt spend *ALL* 20 years hating the game, I didn’t wake up in cold sweats cursing it’s very name or send it daily hatemail or anything. I would however, have avoided it if I saw it passing me by in the street, I may have even crossed to the other side). The tactic bloody works as well, locking on to the planes and trimming their numbers down really helps see the missiles when they come towards you and before I know it I’m at a “refueling stage” – oooooooh.

Something I do notice while daddy plane is hooking me up and trying to persuade me to have a Wether’s original; I have LOADS of missiles left over. There was me thinking that I only had a few missiles when actually each of the missile icons at the bottom right actually split out into half a dozen missiles each! That’s handy. Also, I was wrong, it IS good to shoot things as it is here that you get a nice little bonus for doing so. Woo!

Next level and it’s night time – makes the buggers a little harder to see but the tactic still works. The missile revelation has fudged me up though as I go a little “trigger happy” and run out of the buggers pretty early on. Cocks. Dead. The score is enough for 2nd place in the record books mind you.

Score: 670,080

Ok, last time lucky. This time is MUCH better and I’m really quite getting the hang of it. Mind you, I have a question for you budding fighter pilots out there. My only experience of this stuff is the film Top Gun, and even then I’ve never made it through the whole film as it’s more than a bit too homo-erotic for me (and it doesn’t seem to feature a single gun in the whole film, let alone enough to be able to form a hierachy out of them). However, I would image that a valid fighter pilot technique would not normarily be the “fly straight into you and we both die” technique. Even if there were such a thing as a kamikaze brigade in this game, I doubt every single bugger would be a member. It really does happen quite often though, especially from the chaps that approach you from behind (back to Top Gun there, ooof!).

Nevertheless my third and final game goes very well, surprisingly so in fact. The tactic really works and I am getting a lot better at the dodging part also. I really actually quite like the game now, especially the nice touches such as when you are only clipped by a shot and crash into the ground instead of exploding. (Comically your score contines to count up as you smash along the ground only stopping when you eventually explode – nice touch that).

The score as well is a goodun – that’s better. That’s second place truly cemented then, which was nice.

Score: 1,451,720

So – my hate affair with the game is finally at an end after 20 long years. Come back into the fold Afterburner, all is forgiven. Is there a place for the old girl in your heart as well I wonder? Go on, stick Top Gun on the telly and get in the mood. Keep the pants on though son and keep your hands where I can see ’em.

3 thoughts on “Game 10: Afterburner II (SEGA, 1987)

  1. Good to know you got your gripes with Afterburner. For sometime I thought the game was random too, but it’s not. There’s a lot of memorization in the game, all waves attack you the same way at the same spot… so it’s a matter of learning how to deal with each wave, at an insane speed. The speed button do help you… sometimes it helps you shoot each enemy from a wave by slowing down and stuff like that.

    I’ve finished both the Mega-Drive and PC-Engine versions of Afterburner 2 without using continues, but I have no idea of what my score was (And they are probably easier than the arcade one anyway). It’s a very cool game.

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