The games put you into the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat (or one of two other possible planes in later games). You fly down at high speed destroying waves of enemies with your guns and missiles.
The arcade games are well known for their cabinets. Earlier games in the series can come in standard upright cabinets, but can also come in sit-down motion cabinets in which the seat moves around to correspond to your ship's motions. In the late 80's and early 90's, After Burner cabinets were quite the eye candy.
The series spans five games:
- After Burner (Arcade, 1987)
- The original game, released only in Japan.
- After Burner II (Arcade, 1987)
- More of an Updated Re-release than a sequel, After Burner II introduces throttle control for faster gameplay, improved weapon firing, new stages, and revamped music. First AB game to be released outside of Japan. A port with 3D functionality, 3D After Burner II, was released in Japan in December 2013, and in North America in January 2015.
- After Burner III (Sega CD, 1992)
- A port of the Japan-only arcade title Strike Fighter, a sequel to arcade title G-Loc, which was itself basically a first-person After Burner. The Sega CD port allowed for a more traditional at-all-times third-person view, if desired; G-Loc and Strike Fighter only switched to third-person if an enemy was on your tail.
- After Burner Climax (Arcade, 2006)
- Climax offers brand new graphics, a "Climax Mode" that lets you slow down time to lock on to many enemies at once, two new fighters to choose from, and special "Emergency Order" missions. Later ported in 2010 to Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, and de-listed in 2014. It was also released on iOS and Android in 2013. Originally a paid app, it became free in 2019.
- After Burner: Black Falcon (PlayStation Portable, 2007)
There's also a much lesser-known spinoff called G-LOC: Air Battle, in 1992. It is slower paced than After Burner and puts more emphasis on destroying enemies. Perhaps the only thing anyone remembers about it is that it had a special version designed for the R-360 cabinet, a motion cabinet capable of rolling upside-down.
The After Burner series contains examples of:
- Airstrike Impossible: Two or three times in Climax, you fly into a bunker.
- Anti-Frustration Features: a good half of the EX Options of the Console version of Climax fall under this, running the gamut from additional lives to invulnerability to enemy fire.
- With enough of them activated, you can even literally sit back and do nothing as the game shoots down all the enemies for you during the first two stages.
- Challenge Run: A handful of the EX Options in Climax bring up red text when selected, and their description always begins with "Caution". Among these include turning you back into a One-Hit Point Wonder and removing your missile recovery, restricting your missile spams to Climax Mode.
- Combos: In Climax.
- Cool Plane: The F-14 in the first few games; the F-14D, F/A-18E, and F-15E in Climax. And yes, they are all based on actual planes.
- Deadly Walls: In the first two games, there are occasional levels that swap out enemies in favor of walls. Touch one and you lose a life. In Climax, depending on your speed and angle with the wall, damage will range from Scratch Damage to an instant life loss.
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: For the most part, dying and continuing do not affect your score. However, in arcades, this eats money. And in Climax, this breaks your combo and resets your stars, which are needed to access secret missions.
- Excuse Plot: II (the console version) apparently has you rescuing a Damsel in Distress; it's only mentioned in text at two refuel stops and the ending. Climax has you take on a terrorist organization attempting to go nuclear.
- Foregone Victory: In Climax's last stage, if you don't destroy the missiles in time, the mission is still counted as complete, because your carrier shoots the missiles and only sustains light damage. However, you don't get the best ending.
- "Get Back Here!" Boss: Every boss in Climax; you are, after all, still tearing up the skies at supersonic speeds.
- Hyperspace Arsenal: Your ship starts off with 50 missiles. And in Climax, you regenerate them over time.
- Life Meter: Climax offers one. You still take heavy damage from a missile though (50% or 70%).
- Macross Missile Massacre: Considering the main method of attacking is missiles, inevitable. Climax's...erm..."Climax" mode causes you to go into Bullet Time while chain-firing missiles.
- The twelfth stage, Sleepless Sanctuary, deploys a ton of these with much gusto. Be prepared to dodge a whole hell of a lot, and expect to see your ship go down a couple of times if you're not prepared for it.
- Multiple Endings: Climax has three endings. All of them are good, to varying degrees.
- Ending C* : The terrorist group Z surrenders, but you are informed that your allies will keep watch on them in case they try to set up a counterattack.
- Ending B* : The aircraft carrier you took off from fires at the warheads to finish them off, and sustains minor damage. Other than that, Z surrenders unconditionally and you and your squadmates celebrate your victory.
- Ending A* : Same as Ending B, minus the "carrier gets hit" part.
- Nintendo Hard: Good lord, you practically need to be acting like you have a seizure to dodge virtually any of the missiles. In II, a first-timer can expect to use all three starting lives by the end of stage 2, or 3 (out of 18 stages total) if they're lucky.
- No Fair Cheating: Averted in the console ports of Climax with the EX Options. You can give yourself unlimited missiles and health, have your Climax gauge always maxed out, have a giant aiming reticule, and disable enemy fire, and STILL rank in on your Arcade Mode leaderboard. And there is no way to differentiate between scores obtained legitimately and scores obtained with options that make the game easier.
- One-Hit Point Wonder: One hit in After Burner or After Burner II and you lose a life. In Climax, the "Armor: 1%" option reduces your armor to 1%, so even the tiniest gunfire or wall scrape = *PEWWWWWWWWWW* "JAGUAR LEADER'S HIT!" *BOOM*
- Pinball Scoring: In After Burner II, you can get thousands of points per second just from flying, depending on your speed. Each enemy kill is worth 20,000 points at the end of a stage. Additionally, there are two codes, one which adds 50 million points and one that adds 250 million.
- Point Defenseless: Subverted with the Carrier taking out the missiles with minimal effort and taking only minimal damage to the carrier.
- The Rival: The 3DS version of II has a special mode that replaces certain levels with a dogfight against a single skilled enemy fighter. At first, you think it's your kidnapped buddy Tom, but at the end his identity isn't revealed since Tom is rescued at the end.
- Shout-Out: When landing to refuel you land on a runway that looks suspiciously like a road. When you take off again, the chase car is a red Ferrari Testarossa convertible with a hot blonde in the passenger seat.
- Spiritual Successor: Sky Target. Arguably G-LOC: Air Battle as well.
- The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: Stages 14 and 15 in Climax, which can only be unlocked by clearing all of the Emergency Orders.
- Where It All Began: The final stages of II and Climax are set over the ocean to the tune of "Final Takeoff" (the first stage BGM of II). Heck, in Climax, the first and final stages are both called "Boundless Ocean".
- World of Ham: The voice acting in Climax