Video game aesthetics have come a long way from the mid ‘90s, when developers made the transition from sprites to polygons. The rough look of these early 3D games didn’t seem to be an issue to most gamers at the time, and the prospect of playing in three dimensions outweighed the visual hit our games took. Sprites were largely considered passé, and the industry barreled into the outstretched, texture-mapped arms of 3D wholeheartedly.
Graphics weren’t the only area in which video games progressed immensely. There was a fundamental change in the way we controlled our games to compensate for the 3D movement. Consoles added two analog sticks to provide accurate 3D movement, a standard that pretty much all games utilize today.
It was where these two elements – 3D control and 3D visuals – met that caused problems with some early titles. Sega, for instance, only incorporated a single analog stick into its Saturn 3D controller, and this proved problematic for true 3D games. Playing those titles today, it can be difficult to imagine how we ever played them at all. Just try playing Croc or other 3D platformers and you’ll see the problem.
The game that stands out most in my mind regarding this issue is the Saturn classic Burning Rangers. A late release by Sonic Team, players joined a team of futuristic firefighters and explored the different levels of burning locations to save civilians and eliminate the infernos. Now, I love Sonic Team’s Saturn releases. The weird concepts, the vocalized soundtracks – all of it was so refreshing and engaging back when the Saturn ruled my household, and they still ooze with charm today. Burning Rangers combined this charm with an original concept and a 3D gameplay dynamic but was hindered severely by its rough visuals, poor collision detection, and clipping. The lack of a second analog stick compounded these problems, and the shoulder buttons were never adequate substitutes when fighting in an open 3D world.
A remaster would fix these issues. The thought of being able to play Burning Rangers as Sonic Team had intended warms my heart because we would finally have the game in its true form. Additionally, a remaster would reintroduce this classic to a whole new generation of gamers. I favor any effort to keep Sega’s legacy titles alive, and the Saturn is a particularly overlooked period of its history. There’s a lot of gold to be mined there, and Burning Rangers is a wonderful nugget with which to start.
I know that the chances of Sega continuing this franchise are slim, but I honestly think it should give Burning Rangers another look. The concept is still a fresh one, and most of the graphical and gameplay issues it had would be solved with the power of modern consoles. The franchise’s 20th anniversary is next February, so this is as good a time as any. How about it Sega? Could this series fly high with grace and pride one more time?