Herbie Goes to Florida?
RELEASE DATE: 06/30/87 – (JP), 10/1987 – (US, EU)
ALSO AVAILABLE ON: Genesis (1991), Game Gear (1991)
OutRun is the quintessential racing game for the 1980s. Top-down Testarossa blazing across the highway with a reckless indifference towards speed limits. Gorgeous blond-haired woman keeping you company in the passenger seat. The sleekest summer jams blasting out of the car’s every orifice – and if it wasn’t sweet Hiroshi Kawaguchi noise, you know it would be Duran Duran’s “Rio.” Then there’s the blow: no playboy fantasy would exist without it. The driver’s got a mountain underneath the back seat. How do I know? Because when you crash the car – and you will, at some point, crash the beautiful Ferrari – the driver and his gal look fazed, then promptly get back in the car and start racing again. That’s not bravery. That’s white-inspired insanity. That’s every Frankie Goes to Hollywood video mashed-up into one hellacious montage. That’s the ’80s.
Dances in the sand? She sure does.
Like other Sega “racing” games, OutRun is less about racing other cars than it is about the joy of the drive. Is it possible to be as high as your stock investments while still keeping your Ferrari on the road at insane speeds? Yes! To a point! The game starts you off at the beach before giving you options. A split will appear in the road with one way leading to The Devil’s Canyon and the other way leading to a secluded field with ancient architecture. The Ferrari can handle any type of terrain or exotic backdrop, so the choice is up to you.
It’s the first of many choices you’ll be forced to make since OutRun is built on branching paths. Once you choose your direction, you’ll come across a checkpoint that will give you more time. Fail to hit the checkpoints before your time runs out, and the hedonism is over. There’s over fifteen levels in all, with multiple endings depending on the path you choose. I’m no racing game historian, but given the racing genre’s limited creativity in the mid-80s, multiple ending and branching paths sounds like much-needed progress.
Go fast enough and you may travel through time.
OutRun is yet another Yu Suzuki joint. This is made immediately obvious by the game’s similarities to his previous works, Hang On and Enduro Racer. If you’ve played either of the aforementioned, you know how OutRun controls: Button 2 accelerates, Button 1 brakes, and Up/Down on the D-pad shifts gears between Low and High Gear.
While this is all you need to know in order to control the hottest car of 1986, you also need to be cautious of the game’s poor attempts at three-dimensional depth. In the arcade, OutRun used Sega’s infamous Super Scaler technology to give the roads an added sense of depth. But as I mentioned in my Enduro Racer review, the Master System isn’t able to recreate such superior scaling. This means that, in OutRun, your Ferrari will appear to get jostled in different directions depending on the way the road bends; whereas in the arcade version, the Ferrari would caress the road’s supple nooks and turns through scaling trickery. These jarring movements aren’t game breakers, but they happen enough to be worth mentioning.
Sega’s color choices couldn’t be more in line with the decade’s gaudiness.
Now, of course, the arcade version of OutRun looks better, sounds better, plays better than the Master System port. The game wasn’t the top-selling arcade title of 1986 for no reason, after all. But unlike Space Harrier – a brilliant Super Scaler-run arcade game chopped and screwed to oblivion in the porting process – OutRun‘s vibes of freedom, speed, wealth and recklessness translates well to the Master System. This is due in part to top-notch controls, but also to the simple sprite of the Ferrari with its top-down and two people inside. This classic American image appeals to the basic human desire of wanting to be cooler than you are, which is – let’s face it – what lies at the heart of so many video games in the first place.
When I think of OutRun, I don’t think of a good racing game. I think of the Ferrari and the experience of being the cool, rich kid with the world at your fingertips. Even if Polo Shirt Boy and Trophy Girl have some major self-loathing going on, it doesn’t matter. They have a Ferrari that can speed past whatever blues they carry with them. I say drive on, you caricatures of excess. Drive on!