During Sonic Team's great respite from the hedgehog during the Saturn years, they pursued other ideas. Two games spawned from this, the classic Nights into Dreams and Burning Rangers. While Nights went toe-to-toe with Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot and would later gain status as a classic, Burning Rangers didn't have the same impact. Instead, with its late 1998 release and over-ambitious design, it would remain as one of the Saturn's hidden jewels.
In the future, the world has changed largely for the better - people get along, the environment is clean, greenery perforates the area, and life is much less stressful. However, not everything is utopian. Even with these successes, mankind can not control nature itself. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and fire still occur, and so teams of dedicated people are needed when an emergency arises.
Enter the Burning Rangers, an elite group of jet-strapped firefighters. Their mission: Rescue anyone caught in the flames and put out the fires that threaten lives.
While dealing with a recent outbreak of fires, the team stumble across several crystals (check all this shit) that seem to be cause of all the activity as of late. As it turns out, a gigantic ship is approaching Earth and it's up to the Rangers to free some chick trapped inside of it and save the Earth.
Two characters are available from the start - Shou (as in Show 'Nuff) and Tillis - though each one plays identically. From here, a mission is selected and the game begins. The goal: make it through each level, keep as much fire under control as possible, rescue all of the survivors, and do it as fast as possible.
To pull this off, the Rangers jump through the level on rocket packs and use a laser (check) gun to extinguish all of the fires. If a direction is pressed while jumping, the characters will leap off in that direction. While in mid-air, a double-jump can be performed, allowing access to higher areas and providing a means of last-minute maneuverability. And then there's the auto-jump feature. If Shou or Tillis is pushed close to an edge, they'll automatically leap off. At first it seems annoying and hard to control, but after getting used to it, it'll save you a few lives. Instead of falling to their death, the Rangers will leap into the air off of an edge, providing a few quick moments to regain their groundings.
Blasting out the fire is pretty simple - hit the fire laser button. For standard, everyday, orange flames, this is the method of choice. Hold down the laser button and it charges up, allowing larger and more intense fires (indicated by varying colors - green, blue, purple) to be extinguished. As the fires are vanquished, they become crystals, which are to the Burning Rangers what rings are to Sonic the Hedgehog. As long as there's a crystal, the Rangers can take damage and survive. Take a hit with no crystals and it's game over. Although both fire and crystals are plentiful, blasting flames away with the charged-up laser shot will destroy any nearby crystals.
Controls are rounded out with options to look around the area and change the camera angle. At first, it all seems a bit daunting. Everything feels loose and seems to lack precision. After a few plays to adjust to the game, it definitely opens, though, and becomes way less frustrating.
Crystals are important for another reason, too. They allow hostages to be rescued. After stumbling upon (or seeking out) a survivor, just run up to them. If five crystals are available, they'll be rescued. Afterwards, you'll be treated to some horrendous voice acting as a reward for such a feat. Though tempting to avoid saving anyone, if at least 10 crystals are in hand, a bonus life will be earned, somewhat balancing things out.
While BR is a 3D platformer, it does have some tricks up its sleeves. The game relies heavily on sound for navigation and warnings. At times, fire will burst out the surrounding walls directly into one of the Rangers. Before this happens, a small whistle sounds, giving the player time to get out of the way by hitting down on the direction pad. Levels in the game are arranged like mazes and to help get through them, Chris navigates the players with audio cues at various points through the level. Chris can be contacted at any time to direct players where to go. Sometimes the directions are useful, sometimes they're completely wrong.
With sound being such an important factor to the game, there is very little music during the levels. For the most part, radio chatter, the sound of burning flames, and the rocket packs firing create the audio ambience. Conversation over the radio helps fill in the story, and as other characters are heard interacting, gives more insight to their personalities. Music pops up on occasion and is generally pretty good when it does.
A boss awaits at the end of each level, most of which have almost nothing to do with fire. They're probably not necessary for a game like this, but at least they add a bit variety. Battles usually involve avoiding balls of fire while trying to nail the boss with a charged-up laser blast. When it's all said and done, most bosses can be defeated in under a minute, so it's not like this is a big part of the game.
Just like Nights, the game will give the player a grade when the level is complete. This time, ranks range from D (check) to S, with S being the highest. The official grade is made of four (check) components: people rescued, crystals, fire percentage, and boss time. These methods also detail the various ways the game was meant to play. To find all of the hostages, the levels will need to be searched from front to back. Of course, finding all of the locations where a person may be is not exactly conducive to finishing the level in record time, so blazing through as fast as possible is another option. In trying to keep the fire percentage levels down, a player may have to sacrifice a few seconds. I've found it most enjoyable to try to get through the level with a quick pace, putting out fires and checking for any rescuees along the way.
After the game has been completed for the first time, a random mission generator mode opens up. This has been advertised as giving the game infinite replay value. It helps... kind of. The levels are the same as they have been, but what changes, what is randomly generated, is the location of the rescuees, which doors are locked, and the location of the switches to unlock the door. Basically, the entire game can't be seen in one play-through, since certain doors lock out specific sections, but at the end of the day, they are still the same missions that just play out slightly differently.
Birthday: August 7
As the flames whip and intensify, the exhausted ten-year old Shou lets out a last desperate cry. A shimmering outline appears, extending a blood-soaked glove to hurl the young boy to safety. Then - and in the countless haunting dreams since then - Shou looks back to witness the phantasmic Burning Ranger vaporize I a ball of flame...
That was the day that changed Shou's life, the day he recognized his destiny.
Then years later, he too has earned the right to call himself a Burning Ranger, and maybe someday he'll be able to repay his debt.
After a blaze mercilessly snatched away the lives of her loving parents, the young and bewildered Tillis was taken into government foster care. The cold and impersonal environment spawned in her a desire to save others from the pain of untimely loss.
Strength of character, limitless compassion, and extraordinary physical dexterity made her a perfect candidate for the Burning Rangers - her new family.
Birthday: January 23
Lead joined fire-fighting after graduating high school - more for the experience than out of any real desire to help people. However, once he got involved in the job of actually saving lives he quickly gained a healthy respect for the business...
Lead has nurtured in himself the perfect temperament for the role of Burning Ranger. He's a cool intellectual who always thinks before he leaps, thanks to an intense awareness of the value of every life.
Height: 230 cm
Birthday: April 20
Big is the eldest and most experienced of the Burning Rangers. His enormous strength and incredible sensory perception have come to the rescue of many hundreds who had lost all hope.
Big was badly injured in a terrible accident early in his career, but thanks to his iron will and unbending sense of purpose, he now operates with a body rebuilt using neuro-sil and carbo-limb implants.
Birthday: September 10
Chris was on thirteen when her father - a first generation Burning Ranger - perished while trying to rescue survivors of a chemical explosion. Chris grew up with enormous pride in her father and his ultimate sacrifice, yet she always felt that his work had been left unfinished. Chris decided to continue her father's legacy despite her mother's tearful objections.
Her razor-sharp judgment and ability to remain calm in the searing heat of the moment were talents quickly recognized as being perfectly suited to the job of Burning Rangers Team Navigator.
According to the scraps of information that are coming through, there's been a breach of the core reactor at the power plant. The central computer has somehow taken complete control of the plant and its HST-series robots. You've been sent in to run the gauntlet of blazing passageways, searing generator rooms, and super-flammable fuel cells in an attempt to shut down the reactor before the whole place is blown to smithereens.
An unexplained accident has occurred at an undersea marine research laboratory. The Burning Rangers must access the research facilities and rescue the trapped researchers. Watch out for the lab's Guardian-series robots - it seems they've started to attack anything that moves.
A huge, silent space station drifts helplessly in the void. Inside, the scene is not so peaceful - flames are beginning to spread throughout the vessel, feuled by the precious oxygen onboard.
Your mission is to rescue any survivors from an untimely death, and eliminate the cause of this terrible incident
One of the bonus features of Burning Rangers is that it features a "mail" system. After rescuing people from the fires in the game, they will write letters. Some are sappy, some are generic, some are cheesy jokes, and some are pretty interesting. A few of these folks will send several e-mails, updating you on their lives and other happenings. The designers of the game can be rescued and will attachments extra art and passwords for the game.
Did you know?
- There was a 2-player version in development.
- The Burning Rangers characters were designed so that their silhouettes would look like angels.
- The game's original name was simply "Firefighter."