Retro review: OutRun
Ever feel the need to just play a game that’s very behind the times and allows you to drive at speeds that would make you sick? Well, I would never put it in such a light, but if you said no to either of those, there clearly isn’t enough fun being had in your life. If you said yes in any capacity, I’m going to go ahead and suggest you play OutRun, an arcade-style racing game released in 1986 for arcades and later, the Sega Genesis in 1991. The game was awarded 1987 Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards in 1988 and was the top selling arcade game of 1986.
As it’s the most important, let’s talk gameplay first. The main goal of the game is to drive as far as you can within the given time limit while also driving as quickly as possible and “outrunning” traffic. The more distance you cover, the higher your score, which will be entered into the leaderboard upon receiving a game over or completing the game. In addition, there are two gear options, L and H, which are slower and faster. L is the default and, according to the game, has you driving at a maximum speed of 110-120 Kmph (you can change to Mph in “options”). Depending on your controller setup, you switch to the H gear by pressing the designated button, thus allowing your car to travel closer to 200 Kmph, which, while faster, is also significantly harder to turn with and brings up the issue of avoiding traffic. The main strategy to acing this game is to time when you change gears and, of course, to avoid any obstacles. If you do happen to run into a car, a tree, or even a rock while in H gear, be prepared to see your car lose the driver and fly into the distance. Now, being a video game and having video game logic, you can simply start driving again after being spun out, putting you back in the game, but at the loss of precious time. The player can extend time by reaching checkpoints, denoted by the game yelling “checkpoint!” In total, you will pass five checkpoints, with a fifth one being the finish line of the game. There are many possible paths that can be followed, allowing for a somewhat different experience each time you play, with a total of 15 levels available. If you don’t make a checkpoint in time, it’s game over and you’ll have to start the entire game over again. Now, this is all well and good, but how are the visuals?
Let’s consider that in front of us is a mostly simple game that involves some basic strategic driving. Now consider that this is a game on a 2D plane acting like it’s in 3D (read: “ow, my eyes!”). So, what does this mean? Well first, it could mean pain to your eyes, but if you get past that, this game has an amazing aesthetic that just screams 80s. If that at least puts some air in your boat or even floats your boat like it does mine, you will probably enjoy this game visually. That said, the 16-bit graphics create an added level of challenge simply due to the limitations of the times, so often you will have trouble figuring out just where you are and when a turn is coming up (besides the road signs). This is a problem of all games from this time, however, but never the less it should be kept in mind. Aside from being clearly from its time, the visual feel of OutRun ranges from sandy beaches and palm trees to mountainous regions. Over time the sun sets as well, and as you get closer to the end of the game you’ll get to see a wonderful 16-bit sunset over head, emphasizing the game’s relaxing nature and striking a nice counterbalance to an otherwise fast-paced game. Visuals alone are not enough to get the feel of the game across, and as 80s as the game itself looks, the music is no exception.
OutRun has your standard array of skidding tire, revving, bumping, and crashing sounds that you would expect from a racing game, doing its best to make you feel like you’re in the driver's seat, and out of it if you happen to crash. As for the soundtrack, well, I do a radio show on WIIT called "Goodbye 70s," which indeed features music from the 80s, so I should get some biases out of the way. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have an obsession, so here is my take on the soundtrack given my admitted bias. You have the choice of four different background tracks, which you can select before starting the game. The tracks are “Passing Breeze,” “Magical Sound Shower,” “Splash Wave,” and “Step On Beat.” The first track, “Passing Breeze,” has a very calm, tropical sound, featuring melodic synth alongside a pleasant drum beat, giving this feeling of taking a pleasant cruise. “Magical Sound Shower” is the most iconic track from this game, and has more of an upbeat, Caribbean style, featuring a chiptune steel drum, giving a real sense of driving alongside the beach. “Splash Wave” is my favorite track, starting off strong with a fast-paced drum beat and a well-placed “clap track,” progressing into almost a breakbeat, which sounds amazing on a 16-bit MIDI. That said, the track, despite its fast beat, manages to have an on-edge yet relaxing sound, making for an exciting and pleasant cruise. The last track, “Step On Beat,” is essentially a notably funkier “Passing Breeze,” with a sound somewhat like Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s save file select screen (for those familiar with that game, which actually came out later than OutRun). Alongside the gameplay tracks is one titled “Last Wave,” which plays upon receiving a game over or completing the game and reaching the leaderboard. Considering that there are only five music tracks in the entire game, it was important that they all be decent to good in quality, which Sega accomplished. That said, I have a little extra information for the reader.
Hit me with a magazine and call me Nintendo Power, because I’m about to lay down some cool extras that significantly increase the fun factor of OutRun. This will be a throwback to those who remember games having cheat codes built in. If you’re playing the Genesis version, you can press A 11 times, B three times, then C eight times to unlock a special version of the “options” menu called “hyper options,” which includes a stage select option for playing any of the 15 stages whenever you want, a higher difficulty option called “hyper” (max speed is now 300 Kmph), and a “mode” changing option. Mode is interesting because it essentially sets whichever stage you’re on to act like a specified stage when you reach the end. For instance, if you change mode to “15” and stage to “01,” then upon completion of stage 01, you will reach the finish line of the game. There isn’t a particularly great usage for this, but it certainly adds another layer of fun and experimentation, which I feel games tend to lack now.
If I were to review this game as compared to all others in existence at this moment, it just would not stand up to any degree aside from perhaps the gameplay and music. So, taking this into account, I’m giving this game a 4/5. If you’re wondering how to play this game yourself, you can actually find the game at arcades even now. Other than that, you’ll be able to acquire the game in some form if you look hard enough. In the near future, look forward to an eventual article reviewing the OutRun official soundtrack (OST) vinyl pressing from Data-Discs!