Sonic Team's first departure from the Sonic series, NiGHTS, to me was not really that big of a departure. Though the game was 3D graphically, it was set on rails, making it more of a 2D experience. Plus, the main character would perform loops to collect the orbs, which basically made it a flying Sonic! I'm not talking bad about NiGHTS, it was a beautiful game. But Burning Rangers is Sonic Teams first TRUE departure from their flagship series. And what a departure it is!! Instead of a cutesy hedgehog, you play the role of futuristic firefighters with high tech uniforms equipped with jumpjets and lasers! Like NiGHTS there are two characters to choose from initially: Shou Amabane, and Tillis. After you end the game, you can input passwords to play as the other characters, Lead Phoenix, Big Landman, and Chris Partn! Once you choose your character, you are taken to yet another cool Sega training mode where you'll learn the gameplay and meet your team mates! It is there that you will discover that LandMan is the best Ranger and Lead Phoenix is a jerk ;)!
There are several different types of fires that you have to extinguish! The red flames are the weakest and the blue coloured fire the most dangerous! In between that is a nasty green flame that fires little fireballs at you! You are equipped with a new fire retardent laser that not only extinguishes fires, but turns them into CRYSTALS of energy! You have to collect these crystals fast before they disappear. They are used to power the shield around your suit. It's sort of like Sonic, where if you get burned or hit by an enemy mech with the crystals, you'll live, but you'll loose all your crystals. Get nailed with no crystals, and it's game over. You not only need the crystals to stay alive, but to rescue trapped survivors throughout the missions. You need at least 5 crystals to transport a survivor to safety. Depending on how many crystals you have at the time, you'll get an extra continue! The jumpjets are awesome! You can doublejump high into the air, or you can fly down long sections of corridors without even touching the ground! You can scale up certain walls by continuously double-jumping! And there is a navigation system that keeps you in touch with the Rangers team so you know where to go through the massive levels. It's very helpful, and you'll be glad you passed on the import version because you would have missed out on the navigation and would be wandering around aimlessly.
Lastly, there's a "Danger Limit" percentage that you have to watch as you progress through the levels. It starts at 0%, at each 20% interval, the place erupts with multiple backdrafts! Then it calms down until the next 20%. So at 20%, 40%, 60%, and 80%, prepare to run or fly like crazy!! At 100%, there's NO breaks. It's blast after blast until you lose. You can keep the danger limit down by running around and extinguishing fires. But keeping the limit below 20%, the first eruption, for the whole level is nearly impossible. 60% is pretty good though. There are 3 excellently designed mission to choose from, and a 4th one if you beat them. And it will take you a while to beat these missions because they're huge! There is some glitching, like pop up and some disappearing polygons, but it's easily overlooked once you start playing. Mission 1 is a huge power plant. As you run down the corridors, you'll hear a whistling sound. Backflip (Down + A or C) real fast, because an enormous backdraft bursts out of the wall!! It will leave a fire behind that you can extinguish for crystals and to control the danger limit. The mission 1 boss is a gigantic, fire breathing plant. It's easy to beat though. Mission 2 is an underwater aquarium. It has some swimming sections that you might find frustrating. It's nearly impossible to go where you want to go. But there's a part where you interact with a dolphin that I thought was a nice touch. The boss of this mission, a giant robo-fish, was a little tougher, but not that difficult either. The bosses in NiGHTS were harder to beat IMO.
There's a couple of platforms floating in the water that you have to jump on as the fish fires missiles at you. Sometimes he'll come up and sink some of the platforms, but they'll float back up. But all you have to do is jump in place to beat it. Mission 3 was set in a space station. I really enjoyed this mission. There's some cool zero gravity areas, and some walls of the ship would just break away, almost sucking you into the vacuum!! And at the end of the mission, your transport device fails, and you have to carry a survivor through a raging inferno to the escape pod! It was too cool! The mission boss was a robot that could reassemble itself after being blown apart. After this mission, the game turns into a 3D shooter briefly, as you pilot the Burning Rangers ship into a big alien spaceship headed for earth. It's just a bonus level to get crystals and an extra continue. The 4th, and last, mission was very weird. It didn't seem like the real life locations of the first 3 missions. It was more like you were in another dimension. It was series of connecting caves, and more frustrating swimming areas. After another easy mid-boss, you eventually face the final boss, the THING behind the alien ship's defence mechanisms. It's basically a gargoyle that hurls everything but the kitchen sink at you. He was the toughest boss of the game, which isn't saying much ;). And I don't want to give away the ending, but let me just say that it could have been better. It was brief and predictable. Endings are still an area that Sega has to work on. But the game is still worth playing for the first 3 missions. You may not want to play the 4th one again ;). By by the way, when you play the game again, new doors open, and the survivors locations are changed. This adds greatly to the replay value. And there are sure to be cool password codes in the coming months.
- minor graphical flaws, easy bosses, and a lacklustre ending are overshadowed by brilliant level design, navigation system, character control, and backdraft effects. Another great effort by Sonic Team that IMO beats NiGHTS in originality and replay value.
Review By: P.S.X blowz