After Burner flung your F-14 Tomcat at waves of enemy jets that flew in formation over 18 remarkably smooth pseudo 3D landscapes. The game could have been moulded on the previous year’s top grossing film, Top Gun, minus Tom Cruise and the homoerotic undertones. Sega meant for it to be played in an over-the-top mechanical cabinet that swallowed a pound per go and tilted as you jerked the aircraft into a barrel roll to avoid incoming fire.
With 50 heat-seeking missiles it was a minor miracle that the jet managed to lift off from the Sega Enterprise. And the near useless gatling gun served mainly as an emotional crutch for when the red light flashed above the screen to warn of enemy missile lock.
When you ran out of missiles you were reduced to button mashing to keep the skies clear enough to avoid being shot down until your weapons were replenished by a friendly aircraft.
Even big screen, HD renderings of Maverick flirting with hostile MiG-28s can’t live up to taking on an entire air force by yourself. The only male bonding in After Burner is a frantic voice that yells “fire” as your missiles lock on. It’s a shame we couldn’t have had “bogey on your nine!” but the title predates fancy video game soundbites.
In any case, there’s no time for cockpit banter when jets flying in all too perfect formations pop up on the horizon, while another sneaks up behind you. With so many things going on, the plume of smoke gushing out of the engine and ensuing death dive should come as no surprise.
It was revolutionary at its time and spread to platforms like Amiga, Commodore 64 and NES, but none compared to the pricy experience at the arcade.