Outrun is one of the most exciting and fun games that have ever hit the arcades. Set on a one-way street, a winding ribbon of sun-scorched tarmac that never seems to end, Outrun is a constant cavalcade of choice, every beautiful racing adventure having the possibility of ending at different points due to the branching freeways. This game was all about the feeling of freedom, being the closest most of us could get to owning a Ferrari and racing down beautiful roads with the wind blowing in our hair.
Japanese developer Yu Suzuki came up with the original idea of Outrun. He had been responsible for favorites such as Space Harrier, After Burner and Hang on. Suzuki had developed a series of games that centered around powerful twin 68000 processors. There were several popular games which utilized these boards effectively but it was Outrun that really brought Suzuki to the public's attention. When the game released it made Suzuki a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
Racing titles had always been incredibly popular and Sega had experienced good sales with Monaco GP. Suzuki wanted to craft a title which went beyond the previous formulas, he wanted to create an expansive racing game which was fun and incorporated a Ferrari. Ferrari was a car manufacturer and brand that Suzuki loved with a passion and he wanted to incorporate that love into something that would be exhilarating for gamers to play. He came up with a concept where players would leap into a Ferrari Testarossa and race against the clock through checkpoints to the finish line. This race would feature several branching paths and encourage replay in the arcades - even for those gamers who had already beaten it. This was a new concept and, although familiar to gamers today, had never been tried before.
The Original Game
Outrun was released in 1986 and was embraced by gamers worldwide. With its awesome graphics and gameplay, as soon as gamers saw the arcade cabinet on display, they knew the game was different. Outrun was one of the first games that featured the 'chase car' view mechanic as opposed to the aerial view of the vehicles that was traditionally used. It was also the first game to feature Sega's 'Super Scaler Technology'. Gamers loved driving the Ferrari supercar and also enjoyed the feature of being able to choose the in-game music to listen to as they raced through the streets.
The soundtrack became iconic (my favorite track being "Passing Breeze") and was even released on CD in 2014. Players having the ability to choose the next track on the route after successfully completing the previous track gave the feeling of freedom. It also counted towards replayability, with players returning just to see the different tracks the game had offer. The graphics drastically changed with each stage, going so far as including sand effects that would slow you down. There were a total of five different endings on offer and this was astounding for an early arcade title released in the 1980's.
The success of Outrun was quickly capitalised on by Sega, they released a sequel called Turbo Outrun. This was a sequel, but to arcade owners, it was billed as more of an upgrade. The new Outrun title was designed to run on the original hardware, but it was more of a completely different game from the ground up. It continued the same theme, the player raced between checkpoint to checkpoint but with an all new course. The player traversed across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles. Although it is still game over if you don't reach the checkpoint in time, another credit will allow you to start where you finished off.
One regretful omission in this sequel is that you can no longer choose you path through the game at the end of each level. However successful completion of a level allowed you to purchase an extra use of the Turbo boost function, engine upgrades and tire options.
While the two previous games were ported to various home systems with varying degrees of success. The Sega Genesis (Megadrive) had it's own futuristic sequel in Outrun 2019. This was a fun, fast racing game with a serious absence of plot. In the future cars can reach speeds up to 600 MPH, the game also brought back the branching paths of the original and now there were even elevated roads to take. This, along with the tight corners, made this title a decent challenge.
The Master System Outrun Games
The Master System had a series of unique Outrun games released. The most innovative or bizarre, depending on your viewpoint. Outrun 3D required the Master System 3D glasses to play, for those who were able to place the heavy glasses upon their heads and not be subject to seizure. The game carried off the 3D effect quite well and was one of the few games to successfully implement the early 3D peripheral hardware.
Outrun Europa attempted to add some plot mechanics alongside the racing action. It was still all about racing towards the finish line, but in this title, you can also use a jetski and a motorcycle as well as the iconic red Ferarri
These were the classic Outrun titles which resonate in my mind. Of course there were more Outrun titles such as Outrun 2006 which are also fantastic additions to the series. For me, the original arcade version of Outrun is always going to be my favorite. It's entangled in my memories wandering into smoky dark arcades and slotting my money and becoming hooked, obsessed with getting to the next checkpoint.
As always, I am interested in your memories of this game in the comments section below.