Back in the mid to late 80’s there was a popular children’s television show here that had kids facing off against each other on a number of popular arcade games. This was the perfect time for Sega’s “Super Scaler” arcade machines to blow little kid’s minds away with Space Harrier (1985), Thunderblade (1987) and Afterburner (1987) all new and getting plenty of buzz as a result of this coverage. But it was a racing game amongst this lot that would having the biggest impact.
Initial impressions might make it it look like there is nothing original with Out Run (1986). It was a racing game that set the viewpoint behind the vehicle with the road heading out towards the vanishing point on the horizon which was a technique used similarly in other games like Sega’s predecessor Hang-On and Namco’s Pole Position. However thanks to advances in technology and the intent of its famed designer Yu Suzuki (Hang-On, Afterburner, Virtua Racing, Shenmue amongst many) this game would carve out a niche that still stands out and remains a memorable part of my game playing childhood. A lot of that has to do with the presentation.
The opening stage sets the tone of the game with its perfectly blue skies, palm trees and of course the Ferrari Testarossa Spider that players were eager to be driving. I imagine many people at the time would think it sounds like the perfect conditions for a fun driving trip. With the way the stages are broken up, letting you choose your own path to different destinations, it lends itself well to creating that impression.
It doesn’t end there. The game makes great use of the hardware with plenty of colour and smooth movement and scaling. Nothing on home computers or consoles back then could achieve anything like it. There were times when you might see cars cross slightly into other lanes as they went around corners but that’s a minor complaint. On the musical side, prior to the game starting you could choose from a selection of music tracks, seen changing stations on a car radio. The three tracks (“Passing Breeze”, “Splash Wave” and “Magical Sound Shower”) are all good in their own right but I bet I’m not the only one who has a clear favourite to cruise the streets to.
Even with a timer and score aspect to the game to add challenge (and consume many coins in the process), I never really cared about that. It was simply about the fun of the drive and seeing if I could reach my chosen destination. In that respect it could almost be a precursor to the modern open world driving games which give you the opportunity to enjoy the environment and not stress so much about the racing.
The game appeared on a huge variety of formats over the years since its release. I spent a lot of my time playing on the Atari ST version which wasn’t too bad a conversion but couldn’t ever match the fluidity of the arcade machine’s sprite scaling or musical capabilities. I also played the C64 version often at a friend’s place and though it might have been a further step down technologically it still did enough to evoke the right mood. After all… doesn’t everyone want to drive a Ferrari?
Of the sequels produced over the years I may have played Out Run 2 on the Xbox even more than the original game. It threw in more cars, added drifting to your skills and built on the light hearted vibe (literally) with its heart attack mode. Describing my time playing it now is easy as it oozed fun from the outset and was an easy choice for me over many of the more “realistic” racers that required a greater commitment.
I had a chance recently to play the Out Run 2 SP Super Deluxe arcade machine with my son. These gigantic machines allow two players to sit in one of the cars together, each with their own steering wheels which allowed for some unique co-op modes without the need for swapping places between turns. For people normally intimidated by these big arcade machines it was a perfect introduction and we had a great time playing it. And it’s great to think that even after all these years the games are still out there and able to be played.
The video below is from the World of Longplays channel on YouTube and shows all the routes played through to the end as well as that glorious in game music… “Splash Wave” is the one for me. 🙂
When I think of arcade games, Sega’s golden run of titles during the 80’s are some of the first that come to mind as I was the right age to really appreciate them. I played a lot of Afterburner then and even more Space Harrier but in the end it’s been a game about going for a joyride in a Ferrari that’s had the staying power and I can’t really fault it all. 🙂
Greatest Games is a feature where we highlight our favourite games from the past and try to explain what we think makes them great and worth searching out to play again. If you’ve got your own thoughts on the subject, please feel free to share them in the comments below.