The game was designed by Yu Suzuki. It runs on the Sega X Board arcade system board and uses pseudo-3D sprite-scaling graphics. The player flies an F-14 using a specialized joystick, with a moving seat corresponding to the joystick's movement in the sit-down cabinet installations. The game spawned several sequels, including After Burner II later in 1987.
The game was later updated as After Burner Complete for the Sega 32X.
The game was released in three variations: a standard upright video game arcade cabinet and two cockpit versions, one that tilts left and right, and one a rotating cockpit version. In the rotating cockpit version, the seat rotated horizontally, and the cockpit rotated vertically.
In Japan, the arcade game was well received. The 1987 Gamest Awards gave the arcade version the award for Best Graphics. It was also the runner-up for Gamest's overall Game of the Year award, and also came eighth place for the Best Speech Synthesis award and sixth place for the Best Ending award.
In Europe, the arcade game was also well received. Clare Edgeley gave it a positive review in the November 1987 issue of Computer and Video Games magazine, where she stated it is a "fabulous game" that is "Stuffed full of electronics" and "flings you in four directions to simulate the movement of your jet aircraft." She stated, "Words can't do After Burner justice" and "you'll have to give it a shot." She concluded that, although the price of £1 per continue (equivalent to £2.54 or $3.9 in 2021) "is a real pain, stake a couple of quid on it and go for the flight of your life." In the 1987 Christmas Special issue of Crash, Julian Rignall and Daniel Gilbert gave it a more mixed review. They stated, "Sega, maker of Super Hang-On and Out Run, has just released its most impressive-looking game" yet, "an aerial-combat simulation" with "colourful and incredibly fast graphics" that is "possibly the fastest 3-D yet" seen. They also praised the rotating cockpit cabinet which "rocks and rolls as the plane banks and moves" as "very impressive" but criticized the playability, specifically the plane handling and joystick feedback, and the "overpriced" cost of 50p per go (equivalent to £1.27 or $1.95 in 2021). In the February 1988 issue of The Games Machine, Robin Hogg and Cameron Pound gave it a positive review, describing it as the "HOTTEST" Sega "release so far" and "an air combat coin-op of awesome proportions." They praised the "sheer speed" of the "extremely fast blasting action" as "the fastest and most violent to date" and "the layered graphics" as "extremely detailed" and "fantastic" but criticized the high price of up to £1 per play. They concluded it would "almost certainly repeat the success of" Out Run.
Music from the soundtrack to the arcade version was included on the Your Sinclair cover tape.
The ported home versions were also well received. In Japan, the Sharp X68000 computer game version won several awards from the Oh!X computer magazine, including the overall Game of the Year award as well as awards for Best Game Design, Best Video Game Port, and Best Shooter.
In North America, the August 1988 issue of Computer Gaming World called After Burner on the Master System home console "the first game that uses Sega's new 4MB technology and the enhanced graphic capabilities this added memory provides is abundantly obvious". It cited aircraft depicted in "remarkable detail", "spectacular" scenery, and excellent explosions.
Computer Gaming World's later review of the PC version in 1992 was much more critical, giving it one star out of five and stating that it was inferior to the arcade version. They concluded that it was "far superior in the coin-op cockpit than it is on the personal computer."
Reviewing the 32X version, GamePro commented that the graphics, sound, and gameplay are all great, but that the only difference between it and the Genesis version of After Burner II are some minor graphical and audio enhancements, making it overall only worthwhile to gamers who have never played an After Burner game before.
- Gamest, The Best Game 2: Gamest Mook Vol. 112, pp. 6-26
- Katz, Arnie; Kunkel, Bill; Worley, Joyce (August 1988). "Video Gaming World". Computer Gaming World: pp. 44.
- Brooks, M. Evan (June 1992). "The Modern Games: 1950 - 2000". Computer Gaming World: pp. 120. http://www.cgwmuseum.org/galleries/index.php?year=1992&pub=2&id=95. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
- "ProReview: Afterburner". GamePro (IDG) (68): 60. March 1995.
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