Game Retrospective: Burning Rangers

On this day, 22 years ago, Burning Rangers was first released for the Sega Saturn in Japan. The game would release in both North America and Europe several months later.

Burning Rangers was developed by Sonic Team, by a team of 31 people. Work on the game began soon after the release of the Christmas-themed Nights into Dreams demo, Christmas Nights, for the Sega Saturn in late-1996. Yuki Naka, programmer of such games as Phantasy Star, Nights into Dreams, and the Sonic the Hedgehog series, took on the role of producer, while Naoto Ohshima, director of Sonic CD and Nights, become the game’s director.

The game incorporated transparency effects; a technique previously thought impossible on the Saturn hardware

The game casts the player as a member of the futuristic fire fighting squad, the Burning Rangers. After selecting to play as one of two new recruits: Shou Amabane or Tillis, the youngest member of the team, players are required to explore the game’s levels extinguishing fires and rescuing survivors. Stages are set across a variety of sci-fi environments including an underwater research base, a meteorite-crippled space colony and a flame-engulfed industrial facility. Each area features a boss enemy, varying from colossal sea creatures to malfunctioning robots, which must be defeated before accessing the next mission. The game promotes speed with environments becoming progressively more hazardous the longer a player takes. Although only four missions are included, randomised variants of these become available to the player upon completion of the game, adding extra replay value.

The original concept behind Burning Rangers came from the development team’s desire to create a game different from those available at the time. In a May 1998 official UK Sega Saturn magazine interview, producer Yuji Naka explained, “Nowadays, there are so many games where you just kill people. Instead, we decided to make a rescue game.” He continued to explain that, “right from the start, it seemed that fire was the most appropriate way to create that sensation of tension and fear. So, in the end, we combined these two elements.” In a June 1998 interview with Spanish games magazine, Hobby Consolas, director Naoto Ohshima would go on to further discuss the decision to adopt a fire-fighting mechanic for their game, explaining that fire-fighters were everyday heroes, easily identifiable by the player.

Sonic Team would gather inspiration and collect ideas for Burning Rangers from a variety of sources. Some of the team visited Universal Studios to experience the fire special-effect show, Backdraft, in an effort to craft a similar experience in the game. They also attended a fire-fighting event in Tokyo which demonstrated the use of specialist fire-fighting robots.

As well as directing the game, Naoto Ohshima also handled the design of the game’s characters

One original working title for the game was simply ‘Firefighter’, but the team soon dropped this as it was felt it lacked impact or edge. The team considered several factors while gathering ideas for a ‘cooler’ name. Although they quickly settled on the word ‘burning’, they were unsure how the term ‘ranger’ would be perceived by Western audiences, fearing that such audiences would associate the word with park rangers, rather than their intended image — someone heroic and mighty, like a ‘Power Ranger’. When speaking with Sega Saturn magazine, Naka explained how Sonic Team settled on the game’s final title. “We knew we were going to use the same name [Burning Rangers] for all the international versions,” he explains, “so we checked the name with some foreigners. They all said it was okay.”

Upon release, Burning Rangers received praise for its detailed visuals, coloured lighting and character designs, and amassed several high review scores from critics and gaming publications. Despite this, some criticised the games poor collision detection, awkward camera control and occasionally graphical glitches. In a summary of their review for the game, Official UK Sega Saturn magazine would write of Burning Rangers: “An ambitious and innovative game, Burning Rangers is let down only by the hardware limitations of the Saturn.”

Burning Rangers would go on to be one of five final titles released for the Saturn in North America

Unfortunately, the game would release towards the end of the Sega Saturn’s life in North America and Europe. At its release, the Sony PlayStation was utterly dominating the video games market, the Nintendo 64 had launched a year prior and Sega’s own Dreamcast console was set to debut in Japan only a few months following later. Simply put, the game was largely overlooked. In 2012, IGN’s Levi Buchanan, in a retrospective review of the game, would state that “sunset Saturn games like Panzer Dragoon Saga and Burning Rangers demanded far better launches. The way these games were slipped into retail with zero fanfare and low circulation was insulting to both hardworking developers and SEGA fans.”

Despite this, the game has not been completely forgotten by Sonic Team. Not only would a downloadable Burning Rangers-referencing mission be created for the studio’s later online RPG, Phantasy Star Online, but the game’s theme song would also appear in the rhythm game, Samba de Amigo. Additionally, one race track in 2012’s Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed would be based on the game, complete with a remix of the game’s catchy theme music.

🕹Are you a fan of Burning Rangers? Would you like to see this series return?🕹

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Twitter: @wleigh85

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