There’s also a surprising shallowness to the flying and combat. The planes are all remarkably similar - the F-15 Eagle is predictably swift and darting, but why does the A-10 Tank Killer, a huge, heavily-armored, lumbering behemoth of a plane, perform almost identically? That’s like having a racing game in which the semi truck is only slightly slower off the blocks than the import tuner. It can carry more rockets and missiles, true – but these items, as well as your health, are often refilled on the fly by the power-ups you get when you shoot down a group of enemy planes. This odd touch, which reminded us of an old-school 2D shooters such as Gradius proved critical, because it’s nearly impossible to avoid taking damage as you fly through the level. There are legions of anti-aircraft guns, tanks, gunships, and other ground forces that systematically whittle your health away with swiftly-moving shells faster than you can destroy them.
None of these shortcomings can totally overwhelm After Burner: Black Falcon’s fun factor, and we’ll admit we’re suckers for the way you can beef up your planes, or just paint them with decidedly non-military patterns like tiger-stripes or flames. There’s even ad hoc two-player co-op or dogfighting for 2-4 top guns. But its arcade heritage is just a little too strong, so be sure to ask yourself if a game that wowed you a quarter at a time 20 years ago is worth $30-40 today, with only a mild evolution.