brangers1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Burning Rangers for the Sega Saturn, published by Sega and released in the United States in May of 1998.]

Treasure the life.

Shadow the Hedgehog. Sonic Riders. Sonic Heroes. It wasn't always like this. At one point in time, Sonic Team was a font of creativity. Innovative titles like Samba de Amigo and NiGHTS brought the development team much critical acclaim, even if these games weren't always a success in terms of sales. After the death of the Dreamcast, however, things changed. Though Sonic Team's portable software output remains solid if mostly unremarkable, console gamers have for years now been forced to endure a torrent of awful Sonic the Hedgehog sequels and spinoffs. The trend shows no sign of waning, either; if initial impressions of the upcoming next-gen Sonic title are to be believed, there's little hope of seeing a glimmer of Sonic Team's former creative spark ever again.

But let's think happy thoughts! Burning Rangers is a game that was developed during the peak of Sonic Team's creativity, and it plays like nothing that has been released since. It's a little rough around the edges, sure, but Burning Rangers is arguably more innovative than anything Sonic Team has developed in the last five years.

brangers2.jpgHave goddess on your wings.

So, get this: you're a firefighter. Not just any old firefighter, mind -- you're a firefighter from the future. As such, you have access to a jetpack and a laser-powered water cannon to help you in your task of putting out fires and saving lives. Gameplay is exploration-based, and requires careful navigation through environments that explode and collapse around you.

Burning Rangers would be little more than a simple 3D platformer if not for its implementation of audio as a crucial gameplay element. Listening to radio chatter between your teammates is a requirement in many cases, and since the game lacks a mapping function, you'll often need to rely on the aid of a navigator in order to make progress. The game has a habit of thrusting you into total darkness or into situations where fire affects visibility, and there's a great amount of tension in having to rely solely upon your navigator's spoken directions in order to survive.

CRADLE'S ROCKIN' WITH LOOOOOVEJust Burning Rangers.

With so much of Burning Rangers' gameplay reliant upon audio, it's kind of a shame that the voice acting isn't better than it is. The game's entire translation is pretty flaky, actually; one of the lead characters is referred to as "Lead" and "Reed" interchangeably, and most of the dialogue inexplicably has a creepy, faux-seductive quality about it. The floaty controls could use a lot of work as well, and the game's rough graphics and framerate are hard to stomach at times. If ever a game cried out for a remake, it's Burning Rangers.

Despite its problems, though, Burning Rangers has a number of good ideas and innovations in its favor. After a small adjustment period, it's possible to ignore the gameplay annoyances and concentrate more on the joys of putting out fires and saving polygonal Sonic Team staff members (including Yuji Naka himself!) from certain doom.

In any case, it sure beats the hell out of Shadow the Hedgehog. Because seriously.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]