Mike’s Video Game Retro Review: Burning Rangers

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Burning Rangers

  • Developed by Sonic Team
  • Published by Sega
  • Released for:
  • Saturn– 1998 (NA/EU/JP)

 

Released in 1998, Burning Rangers was one of the last games released for the Sega Saturn outside of Japan. Although this futuristic fire-fighting game is fun and very re-playable, it had a few things stacked against it that held it back from being a big success.  First, the game was released for the Sega Saturn at the end of its lifespan. The Saturn never performed well in America and Europe, and by the time of Burning Rangers’ release, interest in the Saturn was at an all time low. With the underappreciated system hanging on by a thread, sales were underwhelming. Secondly there are some flaws that are far from game killers, but do detract from the experience enough that it would be unfair not to mention them. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite games for the Sega Saturn and I think every Sega-nerd or Saturn fan should give it a try.

 

Story

The story takes place in the distant future. Despite the many technological advances this future society has made, some major earthly hazards remain, like fire. It’s up to the elite high-tech firefighting squad, the titular Burning Rangers, to eliminate major fiery catastrophes throughout the world. Through the game you travel through four unique environments, ranging from a huge sprawling factory, an aquarium theme park, and a collapsing space station. These seemingly random chains of events lead the rangers to a threat more intense than they could ever imagine. You play as one of two new recruits, Shou or Tillis as they prove their strength to the team.

If you think that the story behind Burning Rangers is an amalgamation of trite shonen anime quirks, then you are completely right. This game is filled with 90’s fighting squad show clichés, from the level bosses to the character traits and designs. Although corny, I find this aspect of Burning Rangers charming, (in the campiest of ways.)

 

Gameplay

Burning Rangers is an action-platformer. As your character runs around each stage, they have two main objectives: put out fires and rescue survivors.  You put out the fires by shooting lasers at them and you can teleport survivors you find to safety with energy crystals. There are two methods for putting out a fire. Tap the button a few times towards the flames and you shoot short bursts that put out the fire bit by bit. As the fire is gradually put out, it gives you energy crystals you can use to transport survivors.  Hold down the button for a moment instead, and you can shoot off stronger, concentrated lasers that give off big blasts that eliminates all the fire it hits. This method is best for the stronger fires (blue fires and the out of control green ones) but be careful, when you use the big blast you don’t get crystals. It’s also important not to let the fires get out of control. Each time the danger limit goes up by increments of 20, it won’t go back down past that point.  (Ex. If the limit is at 43% it won’t go below 40.)

The crystals kind of act like rings in sonic the hedgehog. If you have at least one, you can’t die. When you get hit, you lose all of them and the spill out all over. But if you are fast, you can collect some of them back as they fall. When you find a survivor, you need a minimum of 5 crystals to teleport them to safety. If you have 10 crystals to spare instead of just 5, you spend those as part of the rescue and earn a continue.

It’s important to explore areas to find survivors and this is where the platforming part comes in. Your character is equipped with a jet pack that lets them jump high and fly around. You need to fly through collapsing surfaces, back-flip out of the way of back drafts, and soar through anti-gravity corridors in space. Burning Rangers keeps you on your toes with it’s changing and sometimes chaotic environments. With a little practice you can fly around all sorts of hazards in stylish, fun ways.

One cool and innovative thing about Burning Rangers is that throughout the whole game, there are no maps. Details about where you go and what needs to be done are brought to you through auditory navigation.  When you are running around a level and get stuck at a crossroad, just tap the X or Z button for voice navigation. If you get lost almost anywhere in the game, Chris, the ranger who stays behind at headquarters, will feed you information on how to advance.  However, she still won’t tell you where every survivor or path is, so you still have to explore the levels when you can.

 

Graphics  

Considering the hardware that Burning Rangers runs on, I would say that that the graphics are fairly impressive. The Sega Saturn was notorious for being extremely difficult to work with when making games with 3D graphics.  Sonic Team, the developers behind Burning Rangers, used the Saturn’s unique dual CPU architecture creatively to their advantage. They made a visually rich game, utilizing some effects thought impossible on the system, including fancy lighting techniques and transparency in 3D objects.

The textures are colorful and smoother than most Saturn games. The characters look pretty good too. They move well and aren’t plagued with blocky polygons or super jagged lines.  The fire effects are really well done. They flicker and burst out with varying intensity and detail.

Although these visuals are nothing special by today’s standards, they do create an engaging world that the player is easily sucked into.

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Sound

There isn’t much music in Burning Rangers, but the songs that are there are pretty good. The opening theme, Angels with Burning Hearts sounds like it was ripped straight from some mid-90’s super hero show, fitting the style and story.  Part of what makes the game so engaging however, is the lack of unnecessary music or sound. You hear floors crumbling and fires cracking or blazing away.  It really grabs your attention when you go to enter a room from a quiet hallway and the back draft from opening the door sends a crackling boom right at you.

The voice navigation system is a neat little feature that works well most of the time, but it isn’t perfect.  If you are running around too much or turn in a different direction while hitting the voice navigation button, sometimes the directions are a little off, and sometimes the AI just doesn’t know what to say. It’s not bad enough to make you rage quit, but it can be annoying.

For the Japanese Release, Sega got some big name voice actors to voice the rangers, and it shows. If you watch clips of Burning Rangers in Japanese, the acting adds a new layer of urgency and emotion to the game. However, the English version didn’t get the same treatment. The acting isn’t terrible; it’s just… not good. The awkward dialog doesn’t help things either.

 

Replay/difficulty/how it’s aged

Upon beating Burning Rangers, you unlock the random level generator. The levels don’t completely change, but doors, switches, and survivors move locations. Paths that were previously locked or blocked off sometimes open and new fire hazards appear in various places. It greatly ups the replay value and keeps the player on their toes. Also, at the end of each level, a code appears on the score screen. If you enter this in the main menu, you can play that specific level variation again. It’s a nice touch.

Now, the first three of Burning Rangers’ four levels are reasonably difficult, rising in difficulty at a respectable rate. Level four however, is ridiculous. It’s over twice as long as the first two levels, (or at least it feels like it,) and is really, really, hard. This is the part of the game that got me throwing my controller across the room.  Since there is so much coming at you all at once, the slowdown is especially bad, which in turn makes the difficulty of getting through the relentless firestorm worse. Since playing through level four is the only way to get the random level option, it’s a necessary evil. At the very least, you get bragging rights through beating it.

If Burning Rangers came out today, it would lose major points for the slowdown, short length, and sometimes awkward controls/ navigation. Given the time of its release, most of these things are forgivable. In the end, if you enjoy action-platformers and the Sega style of gameplay, you will enjoy Burning Rangers.

 

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

 

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