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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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Justin Towell
Justin worked on the GamesRadar+ staff for 10 whole years. Imagine that. Now he is a contributor, specialising in racing games, retro, and Sanic.