Just do it, just Burning Rangers (Saturn)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on Megadrive/Genesis was a childhood staple of mine. I played it every which way, learning the levels and special stages, even though I never owned the game personally till the Gamecube era courtesy of Sonic Mega Collection. I don’t have that kind of hyper-nostalgia for Sonic as I do for a game like Goldeneye on N64, say, and I am well aware of Sonic 2’s flaws. But on a recent gaming podcast I heard someone describe their first experience with Sonic 2 as an adult, and their picking apart the game’s issues bordered on painful listening. It was so incredibly different to my own time with Sonic – a long, long time, made up of lots of short bursts spread over years of my life, my entire childhood…!

I wish I had grown up with Burning Rangers in the same way. Or if that’s too much to ask, just chatting with someone who had had that experience would be really fascinating. For me, coming to this game now, it just doesn’t fit into with my wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am gaming style of late (see the GGTOW manifesto for more deets).

burning rangers 5

It’s now been several months since I imported my Japanese copy of Burning Rangers on the Saturn, and finally, only now, do I have sufficient distance from the game that I feel able to talk about it here. It’s a game that I was very much anticipating (see my gaming wishlist circa 2014), but when it came to actual, alive and breathing Ranger-ing, I didn’t have a clue what to make of it.

Like Sonic Team’s previous game, NiGHTS into Dreams, Burning Rangers has a striking, novel concept. In this 3D action game/platformer, you run around as one of two anime-inspired characters putting out fires with your water gun, collecting gems, and saving people with said gems. The gameplay is pretty fun, but it never reaches the giddy heights of something like NiGHTS. Instead it ends up feeling a bit like Sonic Team experimenting with three dimensional platforming, gaining some new skills and experience for Sonic Adventure. From what I’ve read, your teammates in the game who direct you during levels provide much of the game’s character and charm… elements that are lost on me in the Japanese version unfortunately.

burning rangers 2

And that leaves me with not a whole lot to say. Burning Rangers turned out to be kind of disappointing, a bit of fun but not the kind of game to leave any major scars on me, not the kind of game that causes major damage.

Thankfully, there’s always the music. There’s much comfort to be found in Burning Rangers’ sound department. And clearly Sega were aware of this, since the Japanese version of the game comes with a mini audio disc. Not a Sony minidisc, but a mini audio CD, kind of like a Gamecube disc. This CD has three vocal tracks from the game’s soundtrack. As you might expect from this point in Sonic Team’s history, it’s a joy to listen to.

I’ve had these tracks pumping out of the stereo in my kitchen these past few weeks, and I simply love it. The high energy tracks like We Are Burning Rangers are great, but my favourite track is the mellow and romantic song “I Just Smile”, the song that closes this triple whammy of Sega blue skies. Sung by Tomoko Sasaki in the Japanese version, “I Just Smile” is a beautiful song.

Sasaki, as it turns out, is one talented woman: she was one of two lead composers on NiGHTS and Burning Rangers, and she’s worked on many other notable Sega games over her career including Samba de Amigo and Space Channel 5 Part 2. But undoubtedly her career high is her memorable appearance in Sonic Team’s jingle at the start of NiGHTS!

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3 comments

  1. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game, so I am unable to provide any experience of growing up playing the game. Some games probably seem worse if the player has more experience of playing games, when they are aware of when a game is badly designed and can compare it to a game that is better made, rather than an inexperienced person who is able to enjoy a badly made game because they think most games are like it. It does seem interesting for a game to use secondary characters to direct the playable character. It also interesting for a game to use vocals on the soundtrack, many games seem to just use game music (except sports games).
    The gameplay seems unusual, how is the game played? Is there a story? Or does the player just extinguish set amounts of fires in a number of locations?

    • veryverygaming

      It’s true, experience does change your tastes. But also I think when you’re young you tend to have less choice over what you can play and when, which forces you to spend longer and be more patient with a game. Digging really deep into a game, and spending a long time in its world… I have an increasing difficulty with that, because there are so many games in my backlog waiting to be played, and classics yearning to be replayed.

      Yes, there’s an unusual number of vocal tracks here. They don’t play during gameplay, only in the menus and such. Clearly Sonic Team had a decent budget and they really went to town with the music – good on them!

      Story is simple: there’s a fire in X location, go put it out and rescue survivors. Nothing really overarching, you’re just the fire crew. Basically each level requires you to go around extinguishing fires as you come across them (there’s a meter showing the overall heat in the place, you have to extinguish any fire you come across or it’ll get too high and it’s game over). Funnily enough you put fires out with a gun, and the fires give you gems which you store up like rings in Sonic. Anyway you dodge explosions as you walk around (get hit and you lose rings- er sorry, gems), and look for survivors (who you rescue with gems). The levels are fairly linear for the most part, although some survivors require you to go off the beaten track a bit. You go further and further into the facility or whatever place it is that’s on fire, and eventually you reach the boss, which I guess is supposed to be responsible for the fire somehow. The first boss is a giant mutated plant that breaths blue fire, for example. The bosses are like Sonic Adventure bosses, where the camera focuses on the boss and you can run around it in circles. They’re pretty good actually.

      I don’t want to be down on the game, because I like it, but it’s a little bit monotonous. It might be that the levels take longer for me though without the commentary, and that bogs it down, I’m not sure.

  2. Dan

    I bought and thoroughly played PAL Burning Rangers when it came out in 1998. I was mid teens at the time.I really enjoyed it and played through as both characters several times to get the different routes and rescue everyone. The controls are fine once you’re used to them, and quite forgiving in the main. Definitely more pleasant to play than Tomb Raider (don’t like it) or Resident Evil (still an all time favourite), for example. The nuts music, the quirky characters and varied locations are very memorable. It’s also quite similar in mechanics to a 3D Sonic or Nights game- collect items that act as a shield, then you lose them if you get hit.
    In hindsight the polygon graphics are a little wonky and glitchy. And some areas, like the water tunnels with the dolphin, are a little too graphics intensive for the Saturn. But at the time I was genuinely thrilled to get such a colourful and ambitious 3D game on the Saturn. I showed it off to N64 owning friends and they liked it too. The colour palate and the early transparency effects are quite impressive. And I still like the pixellated, gritty graphics common throughout the Saturn’s library. I honestly preferred it to the smoother yet stretched and cartoony looking N64 games, for example.

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