Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.
The Saturn’s been an addiction for me since finding my system a couple of months ago, allowing me to rediscover so many games that I’d forgotten about. Not only was I impressed with Fighters Megamix upon playing it again, but a slew of others have surprised me with just how well they’ve aged. Burning Rangers tops that list at the moment by providing the most action-packed firefighting you’ll find in a game alongside some shockingly good stickless camera controls, a ton of voice acting, solid graphics, and incredible audio design.
The core game sees you play as one of the two Burning Rangers – either a girl, Tillis, or a guy, Shou, fighting fires and rescuing people while your commander oversees everything. Putting out fires with the weakest shot gets you crystals that power up your shield and protect you from the flames, and also allow you to transport survivors to the ship for safekeeping. Or body harvesting – you never do see what happens there. You can also use a charged shot to get rid of a more dangerous flame in one shot, but you won’t get any crystals for doing so, requiring you to choose between multiple blasts of a weaker shot to get crystals, but take the chance of the flames getting worse, versus being able to kill the fire in one shot, but sacrificing any crystals in the process. Fires spread along multiple floors, requiring a mix of platforming and light color-coded puzzle-solving to get around the whole stage.
While the stages are few in number, they’re massive in scope so you never feel cheated after beating all of the stages. Plus, you’re graded for how well you do – like Nights, and were made to be replayed quite a few times. Large stages may seem daunting, which is why having your supervisor on-call for navigation help is such a godsend. After growing so used to stick-based camera movement over the past decade, using the L and R button-controlled camera took some getting used to. After a few minutes though, you can appreciate how well it works at allowing you to see most of your current room easily. A modern-day remake would definitely benefit from stick controls to look up and down far easier than you can here since you have to jump in order to get any idea of what is above or beneath you. It’s a minor issue, but one worth noting.
Other than that quibble, and the clear sight that the graphics have aged, the visuals are very impressive. Burning Rangers falls into that ‘it looks old, but not bad’ category thanks to solid animation for the characters, good-looking flames, and incredible lighting effects for the time. Light shines from above onto the environment and changes the character model lighting very well. It’s even more impressive when you consider just how old the game is, and that the Saturn wasn’t known for being a 3D machine. There’s always something going on, usually of the exploding variety, and despite that, there’s never any slowdown. The fast pace remains remains impressive in 2012, and while the character models have aged quite a bit, they’re masked well enough by lighting to not make your eyes bleed, and their designs are still pretty good. They actually remind me quite a bit of Phantasy Star Online’s designs with the deeply-colored armor and trim patterns.
While everything else clicks about Burning Rangers, perhaps its best asset is its audio. The soundtrack is full of pop-ish music that is fun to listen to, and its upbeat nature works against the darker premise of saving a bunch of people from burning space ships. The main “BURNING RANGERS GO, GO!” music is catchy and a bit funny, but unlike Daytona USA, there’s more than just camp value to the soundtrack. Every track has a nice fast sound to it that fits the action well, regardless of how silly the lyrics can get. While I dig the soundtrack, I was mainly impressed by just how good the voice acting was for the main characters – there are a few wonky NPCs, but they’re only heard for a sentence, so they don’t drag down the whole game. It’s impressive to see the cast take the game seriously given this same time frame brought with it a ton of bad anime acting, and some legendarily-bad gaming acting, like in the original Resident Evil and Mega Man 8. Another impressive aspect of the audio is the importance of atmospheric sound effects. In Burning Rangers, you’ll need to pay close attention to your surroundings because you can hear fires whistle before they blow, and that’s your cue to jump out of the way and avoid being burnt. I also love that your commander talking to you through a walkie talkie actually sounds like someone doing that – there’s no ‘recorded in a tin can’ sound to any of the recordings to take you out of the adventure.
Burning Rangers is one of Sonic Team’s best hidden gems, and is also one of the Saturn’s finest games. Sadly, it was also one of its last as well and will cost you in the $100+ range for even a disc-only version. While it’s a great game, it’s nearly impossible to recommend paying that price for any game. Outside of questionable means or a lucky flea market or thrift store find, you’re probably not going to find a copy for a reasonable price. It seems like the best thing to do is hope that Sega re-releases it on a modern console’s online service, Steam, or something along those lines. A remake would be ideal, like the Nights one for the PSN, XBLA, PSN, and Steam that included the Saturn game along with a visually-upgraded version.
I wouldn’t mind a Christmas Burning Rangers mode either — you could shoot snow out of the blasters to put out the fires and save sleigh-flying woodland creatures instead of terrified people. Charging $15 or $20 via digital distribution would be a relative bargain for players wanting to play it, and it seems impossible for it to not sell well as long as the port or remake is faithful to the original. Burning Rangers was featured in the latest version of Sonic and All-Stars Racing, so hopefully this is a sign that Sega has something in the works for the original game to live on a more modern platform.