Sonic team's swan song for the Sega Saturn was like something straight out of the 1980's. It takes everything you loved about children's' anime such as Voltron and Ulysses: a funky sing-a-long theme song, a futuristic setting, a couple of mecha's and a team of heroes in tight spandex, short jackets, white gloves, headbands and dodgy haircuts. This is the world of the Burning rangers. It's almost as though Sega saw you coming.
The Burning rangers are a team of futuristic fire fighters. Players take control of one of two new recruits into the squad: Shou or Tillis. The game is made up of a handful of missions which have you navigating through labyrinths of fire filled buildings: to put out fires, stop explosions and rescue any helpless civilians you happen to come across. As you play through the missions you will come across crystals. Crystals are a form of currency that is needed to teleport civilians to safety. If you do not have enough crystals, then a civilian will have to be left to make like Cajun style chicken. Crystals are acquired by putting out fires, but crystals can be shattered if hit with a charged shot from your water pistol. So whilst a charged shot is guaranteed to extinguish a large fire, it could potentially nip all chances of acquiring crystals in the bud. As you move around fires and explosions can go off at anytime. Players are warned of these hazards beforehand via a whistling sound. When you hear it, it doesn't mean it's time to snap yo' fangaz and crank that like Soulja boy: it means you need to move fast! By tapping a button your Burning ranger will perform a dodge maneuver which will clear them out of harms way. In earlier missions the whistle will sound quite some time before an explosion, but in later missions the time between the whistle and the explosion become shorter and in some cases are instantaneous. Getting hit by an explosion not only means losing a chunk of your health, but also all of your crystals. No crystals means not being able to save civilians, which in some cases isn't such a bad thing. Some of them sit on the floor in the middle of large rooms moving their heads from side to side like Stevie Wonder, expecting to be saved.
Unfortunately you're not always able to choose who you save, as wandering into an area with a civilian in clear view will immediately trigger a cut scene and have you teleport them. Some civilians aren't in such obvious locations however and the real challenge once you finish the game the first time round is going back and saving them all. They're at least kind enough to send you a letter for rescuing them which is quite thoughtful of them.
The audio in Burning rangers is fantastic. During missions there is no music and this works to the games' advantage as it creates a feeling of and being alone. All you can hear is the crackling of fires, explosions going off in the distance and the sound of debris and constructions falling around you. Having any music play throughout the duration of stages would take away from the atmosphere. You also have your navigator (the sexy, but cold and disinterested Chris) constantly speaking to you during missions which gives a real sense of being as part of a unit and also helps break up the silence. At the tap of a button your navigator will tell you exactly where to go. This is a pretty snazzy feature, as not once do you hear the CD spin in the Saturn like crazy trying to load the speech.
Burning rangers features bosses, all of which are crap. The Burning rangers are essentially glorified firemen with jetpacks, so why they have to fight bosses I have no clue. The bosses are unnecessary and do not work well into the plot (another thing this game didn't need). The final boss is some space alien looking thing that you fight on what looks like the set from Justin Timberlake's "Rock your body" video. It is not a rite of passage that every third person action adventure needs bosses. This game could've done without them. All of the bosses aside from the final one is some form of bland looking mecha. The only interesting thing about the bosses is that one of them resembles Pikachu and you can shoot him in the face.
Thankfully the design of the bosses wasn't extended to the main cast, as they're all a well designed bunch. Bright, colourful, camped up to the eye balls, but downright cool. The finger pointing Shou, the cute as a button Tillis, the sexy Chris, the smooth lady killer (but could also be gay) Leed and the big black Mr. T inspired Landman. Unfortunately, the supporting cast do not play much of a role in the game. They're in the intro and in the ending, but they don't do much in between. You'll sometimes come across some of them during missions. But when you do they're either just stood doing nothing, or they'll say a couple of words and then run off and leave you. It's a shame because the supporting cast are just as cool as the leads.
The graphics in this game are surprinsgly good for the Saturn. A console which was pretty capable, but ridiculously hard to get anything decent out of. Sega actually managed to pull some nifty graphics out of their big black box and as a result Burning rangers looks pretty spiffy. Especially in comparison to some the ghetto looking games that came before. (Only the Sega Saturn could fail to pull off an arcade perfect version of Virtua Fighter 1: which was pretty much cubes and a JPEG image for a stage background). The graphics in Burning rangers aren't perfect. There is some slow down and some clipping issues - but it's definitely one of the first (and unfortunately last) games on the Saturn that actually rivaled a PlayStation game in the graphics department. Burning rangers made the Saturn look incredibly capable and even now it still looks a bit of alright.
Burning rangers was a game that had everything going for it. But unfortunately it was released at the wrong time. By the time Burning rangers came around, the Saturn was already head shot out of the market. As much as I loved Burning rangers, I couldn't help but think it really did need a bit more to it and that it needed a more powerful console. When the Dreamcast came along and I saw what it was capable of, my first thought was that Sega should've released Burning rangers for it instead. They would've been able to do alot more with the Dreamcast's extra graphical power, controller and VMU unit. We could've had fully destructible environments, bigger explosions, analogue control, water blasting using the triggers and the VMU acting as a detector for finding nearby civilians. A missed opportunity for sure.
If you own a Sega Saturn and you foolishly do not own this game, then you need to take it upon yourself to hunt it down. It's a must own. Hopefully Sega will resurrect this series and introduce it to the masses who missed out on it the first time round. A re-release on the Wii shop, Xbox live marketplace or PlayStation network would be greatly welcomed.
Burning rangers is flawed game that is far from perfect, but one that was incredibly fun to play, original, full of promise, cool ideas and most importantly, still holds up to this very day. A Sega Saturn classic and one of Sonic team's best efforts.
RATING: 7 / 10
+ One of the Saturn's best looking games
+ Easily accessible game play
+ Memorable characters
- It can be completed in one short sitting
- Terribly designed and unecessary bosses
- Not a great deal of replay value
- Not enough interaction or inclusion of the kick arse cast