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Classic game appreciation section: OutRun

Yu Suzuki wanted the game's soundtrack to be studio-quality. Admittedly, the limited MIDI of the time means it's not quite like listening to real instruments, but there's no sadness - it's still good enough to put on an iPod some 25 years later. From Splash Wave through to Passing Breeze, each track is unforgettable. And don't forget that beautiful instrumental 'Last Wave' that plays when you put your name in. The number of times I've held off putting the 'S' on 'JUS' just so I can hear that last Major 7 chord… 

Gorgeous, isn't it? Every single tune in the game is memorable and hummable. And they've permeated my life, appearing every now and then in some form or another, whether as a jukebox track in Shenmue or as one of my proudest moments from 18 years of playing guitar, when I gave my own rendition of Magical Sound Shower on TalkRadar UK Episode 50:

But all of the game's aesthetic appeal would be nothing without gameplay to back it up. And, sure enough, the game delivers in spades. Yes, it's simplistic, even compared to the bare-bones controls of OutRun 2 in that it doesn't have drift or slipstream mechanics. What it does have are varying degrees of crashes (all of which look spectacular), beautifully undulating terrain and a fork in the road at the end of every stage, which not only lets you choose what the scenery will look like in your next stint, but also the difficulty. Left for easy, right for hard.

Above: Multiple paths, multiple endings... there's a reason for another 20 goes, at least

But while that first stage will always remain the most iconic, it's the second stage that did it for me when I was a kid. That tunnel was just incredible. It was like 3D – those huge pillars of stone looking so solid I could imagine what they'd feel like if I pulled over, got out and placed my hand on their surface. Today, they're a mess of pixels, but in 1986, nothing looked as good as OutRun. Nothing sounded as good as OutRun. Nothing was as good as OutRun.

Above: I used to watch the attract mode roll round and round, waiting for one more glimpse of this in motion

It's a credit to developer AM#2 that its sequel, OutRun 2, is as good as it is – trying to make a sequel to this magnificent original would be like Spielberg trying to make ET 2. I think the downloadable versions are both gone now from XBLA and PSN due to the Ferrari license running out, but if you get the chance to play it, then do give it a go.

Last wave...

OutRun is a very special part of my life, yet it was years until I got to play a home version that didn't disappoint. It was the third game I ever owned on my Game Gear, but graphically it wasn't even as good as Super Monaco GP (and that's saying something).

Above: OutRun (sort of) and Super Monaco GP on Game Gear. Monaco was way better - and to be honest, even that was pants

OutRun on ZX Spectrum wasn't as good as Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix because it was trying too hard to replicate the arcade game (and yes, 8-year-old me was disappointed at the four frames of animation for a spin).

Above: What the f**k is that supposed to be? That said, those dots do make a pretty decent 3D road. No, really

But most painfully, I also remember renting it from Blockbuster video for my Mega Drive. I think I was still searching for that arcade-quality 'fix' that the proper version of OutRun always gave me, but because it wasn't a perfect port (nothing was), I immediately wanted to rent another game. My parents noticed this junkie-like pattern of more and more games coming and going, never quite matching the initial rush of Sonic 2 or Super Monaco GP 2... and it was bye bye, Mega Drive. Sad, but true.

Don't worry, it wasn't long before we all played Daytona USA in the arcades and my mum (having got the fastest lap thanks to the catch-up) asked 'what machine can you get this on at home?'. The answer was Sega Saturn. Yes, that's genuinely why I got a Saturn and not a PlayStation. Oh, and then the Saturn mag we got to look at other games had a little game called NiGHTS on the cover... And finally, a decent version of OutRun was released, actually running at 60fps as opposed to the original's 30. Win.

But even that was years ago and it's over two decades since I first played the game. Even though I'm older, better adjusted and not quite as wide-eyed at the world, that magic feeling still kicks in when I hear OutRun's 'coin insert' chime. In the end, the original arcade version encapsulates everything that arcade games stood for then, and everything that I love about gaming in general.

13 Oct, 2011

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19 comments

  • AuthorityFigure - October 16, 2011 6:45 p.m.

    There's no such thing as "limited MIDI" - the standard remains the same to thise day. I think the author really means "limited synthesis".
  • bass88 - October 14, 2011 6:07 a.m.

    Nice write-up Mr. Towell. Love this game. One of my all-time favourites. Can't believe it is older than me. I used to play it at arcades but I have it on the Saturn now. I never approached it as a racing game either. It was just one of those games you played to unwind and relax.
  • SouthTippBass - October 13, 2011 7:43 p.m.

    Hey, is that a maverick guitar? They didnt make a lot of those! I have the bass! :-)
  • GR_JustinTowell - October 14, 2011 1:32 a.m.

    Sure is! I actually have two :)
  • EnigmaSpirit - October 13, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    This was a great article, but I have to say that this game doesn't really scream "classic" to me. I am still waiting for the next "Nights" to appear on this article, so to speak. Then again, I do think that the list of criminally under appreciated games on that level is somewhat slim. This game does look like it would be the beast back in the day.
  • iluvpkmnmonday - October 13, 2011 2:10 p.m.

    I recently picked up OutRun for my MasterSystem. Loads of fun trying to beat high scores with a friend. Such great music, even on a limited system.
  • SDHoneymonster - October 13, 2011 10:54 a.m.

    Never did I think I'd see the day when Sedgemoor Splash was mentioned on GamesRadar. If you want some classic west country water slide action, head to the Oasis in Swindon. That bad boy was THE place to be back in the day.
  • lwright86 - October 13, 2011 9:40 a.m.

    Awesome game, you forget just how magical it looks, even now, until you see it in motion. Very few games make me think "I really wish I was there". @lazer59882 Yeah, how dare that 8 year old Justin not take into consideration the sensibilities of the rest of the world when formulating thoughts about a game. Although, while we're not on the topic, I wish American TV shows and films would stop going on about the president and eating twinkles. Here's some news for you: most countries don't have a president and eat twinkies. ...Jesus...
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:58 a.m.

    wtf are you even talking about? i cant even ridicule your comment cause i have no idea what its about. tv shows about the president and eating twinkies? WTF? i havent even seen a twinkie in maybe 15 years, and no, idiot, most countries do have a president.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:18 a.m.

    ugh, i hate it when you people talk about england and sh!t, like we care/have any idea what you're talking about. wtf is somerset?! you thought the girl was driving?! heres some news for you: most countries drive on the right hand side. get used to it. jesus christ its maddening reading this drivel sometimes
  • Mooshon - October 13, 2011 9:35 a.m.

    Now now my colonial friend, don't be upset. Cut the empire some slack. After all, we invented driving, computers, the internet... and americans ;)
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:47 a.m.

    hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha thats the funniest thing i've read all day! i get it! i get your humor! you listed things that were obviously created by americans (which everyone knows--cars computers internet) then said they were made by you english people. you say stuff thats completely untrue! and thats funny! thats a good joke! you should be a standup comedian where you just tell lies, and hope people find them funny. ...cause they're not.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:49 a.m.

    also: england hasnt been an empire for like 400 years. so i guess that was part of your joke too?
  • ParanoidAndroid64 - October 13, 2011 2:35 p.m.

    I apologise, but as a history student I can't help but point out it was the British Empire, not the English. Moreover, it only really started to decline after World War II, so you're way off with your guess. Good article, anyway.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 6:24 p.m.

    riiight. thats why america kicked englands ass in the revolution and again in 1812. and why england came begging for americas help in WW2 after it pussied out and basically gave hitler czechoslovakia and poland and let him overrun france. cause england was such a sick empire. ...gimme a break. thats why you are a history STUDENT. you clearly didnt finish learning it yet. come back to me when you do.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 6:27 p.m.

    i also cant help but point out your spelling of "apologize." you spelled it with an "s", indicating you're english or whatever. which shows why you'd make such an idiotic comment like that. nice try though.
  • Mooshon - October 13, 2011 8:40 a.m.

    Great appreciation article Justin! Similar early arcade experience for me. We had the commodore 64 at our house though. Me and my brother used to get a big comfy chair from the front room to use as a posh driving seat. Also on the c64 tape version, they put the entire soundtrack on side B, boom! That went in the 80's midi hi-fi (graphic equaliser ftw) for an unparalleled 8 bit sensory experience. Bliss.
  • GR_JustinTowell - October 13, 2011 8:45 a.m.

    Sounds great :) I like the idea of the big chair for the driving seat. Pity the car never flipped in the old tape versions. That crappy spin was all you got. But yes, graphic equalisers ftw indeed!

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