Insane motorcycle battles sponsored by the rich bold flavor of Marlboro. Ride the cancer.
Hang on for lazy packaging.
Getting first place on the Sega bike always feels good.
RELEASE DATE: 1985 (SG-1000)
10/20/85 (Sega Mark III); 1990 (Master System, EU)
OTHER GAMES IN SERIES: Super Hang-On (Mega Drive/Genesis, 1989), Hang On GP (Saturn, 1995-1996)
Even gamers familiar with Sega’s influential Hang-On series have probably never heard of Hang-On II. Besides being a Japanese SG-1000-only release, this supposed sequel is actually just a port of the original arcade Hang-On, and thus, not a sequel in the slightest. So why did Sega attach the “II” on the front of the title, confusing any and all future game historians?
Hardcore Gaming 101’s SilverStarRipper speculates in his all-encompassing Hang-On post that perhaps Sega didn’t want to confuse Japanese consumers with the brand new (in ’85) Mark III version. My shrewder take: perhaps Sega wanted to entice consumers to buy their soon-to-be-extinct SG-1000 console in order to play the console-only “sequel” to Hang-On. Hang-On was, after all, a popular, groundbreaking game at the time, and a sequel would only arouse further interest. Maybe? Only Sega knows, and realistically, our theories are likely much more interesting than the actual explanation.
Hang-On was a revelation in the arcades. It was the first arcade game to utilize full-body movement in order to control the game. Instead of using a joystick and buttons to control the on-screen motorcycle and its speed, you rode atop a full-blown motorcycle cabinet and used a handlebar to shift gears, accelerate, and brake. When a tight turn approached, you leaned into the direction you wanted to go, just as you would on a real motorcycle. The cabinet worked flawlessly, and the game itself was a blast too. Later examples of the full-body-experience arcade genre focused more on outrageous cabinets than making sure the game was worth your four or five quarters. Hang-On was the type of game that played so well, you didn’t need a fake motorbike to enjoy yourself.
Riding through the Spearmint Meadows.
Of course, Hang-On was popular enough that Sega wanted to make it available for their home consoles as soon as possible. Both the Master System and the SG-1000 received ports of the game in 1985, the same year it was released in arcades. The Master System version isn’t as graphically detailed as the arcade, but it does an adequate job of playing like the arcade. As for the SG-1000 version… well, it doesn’t take a Sega Fun-gineer to realize that Hang-On would have to be severely compromised if it was to be ported to Sega’s oldest console. While I’m not going to outright lie to my audience and say Hang-On II looks good (don’t be fooled by the pretty screenshots – by SG-1000 standards, it looks just ok), I’m surprised at how well Sega was able to recreate the overall Hang-On experience.
As in Hang-On, Hang-On II has you racing across five distinct stages in order to beat the time. You receive sixty seconds per stage, an amount that refills when you complete the stage. Twists and turns abound, as do other motorcyclists who seem hellbent on making you crash. They’ll usually sidle up next to you as you pass them or refuse to move out of your way if you come up behind them.
Thankfully, the controls are pitch-perfect for avoiding your fellow cycle jockeys, even when they seem to smother every inch of the highway. Driving and switching gears via the joystick is incredibly intuitive, as is accelerating and braking with Buttons I and II, respectively. The controls are so good, in fact, that if you crash into anything, it’s almost always your fault. The experience of taking turns at 280 km/hr while riding the brake and narrowly avoiding another biker is a thrilling experience that has no replication on the SG-1000.
The racer looks a bit portly from this angle (Master System version).
While the Master System version of Hang-On looks superior to the SG-1000 version, I can’t help but prefer the latter over the former. Hear me out before you judge. For starters, the controls don’t feel as tight in the Master System version. The brakes don’t kick in as quickly, and the motorcycle takes longer to accelerate back to full speed. Also, while neither version has music during the race, the SG-1000 card’s lack of space makes the dearth of music understandable. But with increased memory comes increased responsibility: there’s no excuse for the game’s iconic theme song to not be in the Master System. Basically, while the SG-1000 version feels like a monumental achievement given the console’s relative lack of power, the Master System version is playable, but basic and a little underwhelming.
How Monument Was My Valley
Once you finish the game’s five stages, the next course repeats the same five stages again, this time with more obstacles and turns. There are three difficulty levels on the main menu, and while I played them all, I didn’t see much of a difference between them on the SG-1000. All are equally challenging, particularly in the number of opposing bikers that are placed on the course at any given time. Interestingly, the first stage is always the hardest. If you crash even once during this stage, chances are, you won’t make it to the next stage before running out of time. In the following four stages, however, I crashed a couple different times per stage and always made it to the next stage without fail. On the Master System, however, the difference between difficulty levels are more apparent. In Level 1, for example, the computer-controlled bikers won’t even acknowledge your presence, whereas in Level 3, they will be “up on your grill.”
The Bike Handle – vroom vroom!
Hang-On II also received its very own peripheral: Sega’s Bike Handle BH-400. Even though the Handle was designed for Hang-On II, one can use it for racing games up through the Mega Drive days, which is pretty forward-thinking and generous of Sega; Road Rash, here we come, eh? As you can see from the picture above, the controller is seated on a red base, which mimics the color of the original arcade motorcycle. I haven’t given the controller a hang-on myself, so I can’t say for certain how well it works. Do the handlebars look petite to anyone else, though? My hands would certainly dwarf the bars, and I consider myself to have very small dude hands. Also, the shifter on the left side: perfect for countries that are used to that configuration, like Japan and Britain; not so easy, perhaps, for us in the U.S.A. The Bike Handle certainly looks retro cool (those motorcycle gauge stickers!), but if you’re gonna import it, be forewarned, it was not designed for American audiences.
Despite threats from the stern Suzuki, Sega never released a Vol. 2
Hang-On would later be featured in an extremely rare Dreamcast compilation entitled Yu Suzuki’s Gameworks Vol. 1 alongside some of the developer’s other acclaimed works, like After Burner II, Outrun, Power Drift, and Space Harrier. While I haven’t played this particular version, I have played the version of Hang-On found in another more popular Dreamcast title, Shenmue (also developed by Yu Suzuki). The Shenmue version plays relatively close to the arcade, save for the in-game billboards which now reference Shenmue instead of cigarettes.
No sleep ’til whatever city this might be. Brooklyn, perhaps.
Hang-On for the Master System would eventually be packaged in several compilation carts with other minor Sega games like Astro Warrior and Safari Hunt, and in some cases, placed into the system’s hardware. While the Master System version is a serviceable port, Hang-On II is the best version of Hang-On either system could have received. While the graphics lack the eye-bursting color and detail of the arcade and Master System versions, the SG-1000 makes up for that with surprisingly decent scrolling and top-notch controls. Sega may have started to move on to the Mark III by the time of Hang-On II‘s release, but cheers to them for putting the time and effort into a solid port for the oft-neglected SG-1000 owners out there.
MASTER SYSTEM: B-