Originally designed by a young Yu Suzuki, After Burner was an arcade classic, though nearly unplayable by today’s standards. It offered limited defensive maneuvers, and so much was being tossed at the player inside the spectacular cockpit styled cabinet, surviving was secondary to the impressive scaling effects. This PSP update lovingly recalls what made the original stand out, while adding an additional layer of playability and addictiveness.
While the jets are fully licensed (truly overkill here), this is arcade combat. Missiles feel unlimited, a few rounds of aim assisted gunfire can take out a foe in a fireball, and the player spend more time locking on to incoming threats than anything else. Nicely varied if not generic environments blaze by as you begin your combat, with enemies flying directly at you hoping to land a missile on your nose.
Digital comic cinematics make up a skippable storyline, meaning you can run right into the fight and miss nothing. Countless planes are available with money you earn inside missions for completing various tasks. Once purchased, you can also upgrade to enhanced missile capacity, new skins, and faster after burners.
Missions are simply laid out. You have three tasks to complete, generally taking down a number of two different enemies and a boss. This typical structure could use some variety, though bombing runs do allow for some spectacular destruction on the PSP hardware, such as wiping out an oil depot. The in-game cinematics are great fun.
Each new stage brings a familiar formula, in which the player lands to refuel/reload twice as checkpoints and immediately begins another run. At times, these feel like laps in a racing game even though it’s supposed to be a new section. Repeating objects, textures, and enemy placements make it difficult to tell you’re in a new area. Obviously, this doesn’t help the already high repetition.
Other small annoyances include the difficulty in avoiding still objects, which cause a rather horrid death when going a few hundred miles an hour. They blend in cleanly with other background objects, and the rather loose control (which feels almost exactly like the arcade original and lesser sequels) makes them unfair.
Also, while not necessarily a complaint, someone looking for the style of Ace Combat on the PSP will be severely disappointed. This is a different style of intensity, and entirely on rails. You won’t find the satisfaction of looping an enemy plane and brining him down. This is straight forward, with an arsenal of the best homing missiles imaginable. Skill is hardly a requirement for most of this run.
With satisfying explosions, co-operative and versus play via Ad Hoc (four players for the latter), After Burner: Black Falcon becomes a successful update. It’s right at home on the hardware thanks to the short mission length and quick pick up ability. Anyone with fond memories of the original will have a blast with this one.
After Burner: Black Falcon is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, and Violence.