The sense of speed in a game based around flying fighter jets is important, and After Burner Climax definitely delivers in this department. It does so with such ease that even having an acceleration button, initially, seems akin to crazy-talk. This blend of flying around on-rails, locking onto targets, and blowing things up, is presented in such a break-neck fashion that you can't help but be immediately impressed with the game. Without a doubt the fast-paced arcade nature of After Burner Climax is the right fit for digital distribution through Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, and for the modest price-tag, you could definitely do a lot worse.
So the game itself is almost identical to its 2006 released arcade counterpart and although played without the fighter-jet style joystick (like the one used by John Conner in Terminator 2 before he was interrupted by the world's only red mullet donning teenager), controls feel natural and work well with a standard control pad. But being born of the arcade and coming from Sega you can naturally expect a few things right off the bat, that being visuals so bright and intense that they would also serve as a great weapon against Vampires, and a music soundtrack made up of electric guitar wailing that could only come from two possible sources, internal Sega developer AM2, or a rock music nightmare.
As for the gameplay itself, it follows a strict linear on-rails path that has various "go left or right" branches similar to those found in Sega's classic arcade racer Outrun. Consequently your overall time, kills, and combo scores are taken into account at the end of the game leading to several different, graded, endings. Not that they really matter, the ludicrous storyline involving made-up nations and pending nuclear war is as important as any arcade-game storyline (see: not at all), so the real reason to keep playing here has to do with your score. Thankfully the developers behind this port were aware of this as all manner of unlocks are gradually doled out the more you play, increasing your chances quite considerably to get the elusive, ‘triple A' ending.
These unlocks come in the form of, initially, some extra credits, so you can actually make it to the end of the game, but they get more and more helpful the more you play. With clever unlocks like a larger lock-on reticule, more combo cool-down time, and rapid missile regeneration, on paper at least these features may sound like cheats. And in essence they pretty much are, but they do extend the life of the game considerably, going from something that would become pretty boring after half and hour to something that is pretty engaging for a few hours. And apart from a score attack mode (that's cheat-free) that features the stock standard leader boards, that's pretty much all there is to the game. Being an arcade port, longevity is always a hard ask.
So for an arcade game, immediate impression is king, and with that numerous other aspects like depth and replay-ability take a back seat to hooking people in for a few minutes of fun. Sega knows this, and that's why their arcade output has been without peer for many years. So with that in mind, After Burner Climax is a pretty solid game, which was expected. But it's also one that you would only play for a few hours and possibly re-visit sometime down the road. That is of course if you're not being tracked down by a futuristic killer robot sent from the future that just so happens to interrupt you mid-game.