It’s an Outrun-ebration!

With last week’s release of Outrun Live Arcade on Xbox360 & the PS3, it seems a great time for J-OMG to celebrate this classic series.

First of all, let’s go right back… to 1986…

I put a lot of blood, sweat & rewrites into my Retro Gamer profile for Out Run; so I hope you won’t mind a bit of copy/pasting…

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A classic game is more than the great example of it’s type. It’s a title so fantastic, so welcoming, it attracts players who normally have no interest in the genre. Street Fighter 2 introduced millions to 1 on 1 fighters. Pacman attracted players who thought videogames were all violent. And Out Run charmed people like me, who’d never been interested in driving games before.

It’s a game that just did everything right. Out Run’s first level is a great example of “blue sky” gaming. Think of the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog. The first level of Super Mario Brothers. Brilliant blue skies, and every other element rendered in happy colourful shades. Out Run’s first stage features sandy beaches, palm trees, windsurfers… it couldn’t be more cheerful if it tried.

And the choice of vehicle was spot on. Not just a red Ferrari. A red Ferrari Testarossa. And to make sure it was the driving experience of your dreams, it was a convertible, with your blonde girlfriend in the passenger seat. It’s the gaming equivalent of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”. Not literally of course. Licensed music wasn’t Sega’s style. They had access to the best videogame composers, and boy did Out Run boast some great music. It has to be one of the very early arcade games to offer you a choice of tunes to accompany your game. And of course, the choice was made using your 80’s style FM radio.

Gameplay was superb. As noted in Jonti Davies’ comprehensive feature in RG54, the game is incredibly welcoming. You start on an empty stretch of road, so you only need master steering in the first few seconds, not passing. Each level feels like a real place, rather than a collection of flat sprites to fly past you. And there’s always a choice at the end of each level, so your next game doesn’t have to be the same.

If you want your own Out Run machine, they’re rare & expensive. The full “deluxe” version is the most pricey, reflecting it’s high desirability.

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Outrun was a huge hit on home computers & consoles, and was followed up in 1989 by Turbo Outrun, the first of a number of “unofficial” sequels. Turbo Outrun removed the “branching levels” of the original game, but added a turbo function, not unlike the feature in Taito’s Chase HQ one year earlier. If anything, Turbo Outrun’s main problem was that it lost a little of the original’s “innocence” – it was a bit too serious.

Outrunners was the next unofficial sequel, which reinstated the branching levels and removed the turbo facility. It was also the first multiplayer Outrun, with up to 8 simultaneous racers, limited by the number of cabinets that were linked together. Outrunners ditched the “single Ferrari” nature of the previous games, and gave you a choice of fictional car-alikes to drive. The famous “Outrun radio” was also updated, so you could change stations during the game. There was even an ingame radio announcer – a full nine years before GTA 3’s ingame radio stations made headlines.

Following Outrunner’s release, Sega seemed to forget about Outrun. They had two new franchises that were hugely successful.. Daytona USA (in 1994) and Sega Rally Championship (in 1996). Fans of lighthearted racing games could only bide their time by driving through al fresco cafes in Konami’s GTI Club or dodging cable cars, in the mission-based fun of Sega’s Crazy Taxi.

Sega’s driving games moved away from “lighthearted fun” in 2001 with the release of Initial D Arcade Stage. The game was phenomenally successful, but had little to offer in the way of “blue skies” or “happy music”. It was serious with a capital S.

2003 was the year of Out Run’s triumphant arcade return. Outrun2 was released in the arcades – and it updated everything that was good about the original game. The red Ferrari. The girlfriend. The music. The blue skies… it was all there in glorious up-to-date graphics and sound. This was the only “official” sequel to Out Run – and it showed. All the additions were carefully thought out.. like the ability to “drift”, the choice of licensed Ferrari vehicles to drive, the “heart attack” challenges and remixes of the original music.

Outrun2 went on to be very successful on home consoles & PCs, thanks to the hard work of Sumo Digital. And now – with the release of Outrun Live Arcade, even more people can live the dream of taking their girlfriend for a drive…. in their open-top Ferrari down Coconut Beach.

I don’t have a current-gen console at home, but thanks to Steam, I’ve just started playing Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast. And – after amassing a few thousand “Outrun miles” I promptly spent them all on… unlocking the 1986 version of “Magical Sound Shower”.

But you knew that, didn’t you…

One Response to It’s an Outrun-ebration!

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