Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top 50 Games - #28

28. Burning Rangers
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Year: 1998
Format: Saturn

Sonic Team, then.  It’s kind of unfair to compare today’s Sonic Team to the late ‘90s’ Sonic Team.  Extensive shuffles essentially mean that the company is the same in name only.  But we do it because Late ‘90s Sonic Team were unstoppable.  They had an astonishing run of a few years where they simply didn’t fumble the ball, let alone drop it.  And Burning Rangers, their last Saturn title, was right in the middle of that golden period.
   A very, very animey game (a while before many people in the UK, including myself, knew what anime was), it’s the tale of a group of futuristic firefighters.  Armed with cool jetpacks and cool laser guns in place of uncool heavy clothing and uncool hoses of water, they arrive cooly at disaster areas and fight fires and rescue trapped civilians with the maximum of coolosity.
   You may have noticed my subtle weaving of the theme of “cool” into the last sentence, and it’s important.  This game absolutely drips style.  Firefighting on its own is a good concept for a game – quick reactions, rescuing people for points – but for BR Sonic Team clearly looked at the game every five minutes and said, “Needs to be cooler.”  So you get the aforementioned jetpacks and laser guns, meaning you can ping off walls and just shoot the fire rather than turning a stream of water on it and waiting.  And there are occasional giant robots to fight, because, well, giant robots. 
   Unfortunately, the game had a problem – the console it was for was, well, not great at 3D.  As a result, it frequently looked like extremely colourful techno-vomit.  To be fair, it occasionally looked great, and was probably too advanced to be running on the Saturn anyway so hey.  It also meant there were only four missions (albeit big ones) and two playable characters (although secret codes let you try some of the other Rangers on specific levels).  Still, there were other perks to make up for it.
   First off, as a sop to the whole only four levels thing, the first three levels were programmed to be played multiple times: there was only one main path, but different rooms would open up or close off on replays.
   These rooms offered perk #2: the civilians.  Going into different rooms gave you different people to rescue.  At the end of the mission, your grateful rescuees (it’s a word now) would send you an email, and rescuing them multiple times would result in up to three missives.  And just for fun, there were some super-secret people in there – Sonic Team programmers (who would send you production art, sound tests or cheat codes), manga artist Ami Shibata (a friend of Sonic Team’s then-head, Yuji Naka), and even Elliott Edwards and Claris Sinclair from the Team’s all-time masterpiece, NiGHTS into Dreams... (more on that later).
   Speaking of manga, perk #3 was some fantastic anime cutscenes that are undoubtedly on YouTube somewhere.  Go seek!
 Best perk of all was the navigation.  The head of the Rangers, the oddly-named Chris Partn, didn’t go into the levels but oversaw the operation.  Hitting Y would call her, and she’d give you an update about which direction to go next.  Admittedly she’d frequently tell you to give her a minute, meaning that it wasn’t exactly a satnav, but satnavs didn’t exist in 1998 so whatever.  In addition, you’d occasionally hear other Rangers calling Chris for advice, which did wonders for increasing the game’s immersion – you really did feel like you were part of a team at times.
   As a side note, it’s interesting to see that the Team themselves clearly felt the game was overlooked – the plot was basically recycled for 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast.
    Obviously, someone needs to make a sequel.  Massive levels.  Loads of Rangers.  Online modes where one player takes on the Chris role and guides everyone else through.  Ooh, it’d be good.
MAGIC MOMENT: hard to choose, but I’d probably go for the aforementioned immersion factor.  Feeling like you’re a Ranger is a rush and a half.

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