Classically Lacking // SEGA AGES: Out Run

Initial release: 20 September 1986

Re-released on Nintendo Switch: 10 January 2019

Developed by M2
Published by SEGA

Out Run is not just an old SEGA game. It is an aesthetic sensibility, characterised by a popular subreddit which celebrates 80’s revivalist art. But yes, it is also an old SEGA game, and it has just been ported to the Nintendo Switch as part of the SEGA AGES series.

Now, this game isn’t on the IGN Top 100 Video Games list, which I will usually select from for Classically Lacking picks, but it was the game which sparked my imagination and inspired the concept, so here it is, first on the docket.

In Out Run you are a bloke in a Ferrari. There is a woman in the passenger seat. You drive down the winding, sun-soaked roads, looking to hit the end of each stage before time runs out. At the end of each stage you reach a fork in the road, left or right, leading to different stages. The objective is to reach the end of one of these branching paths. This game is 32 years old and designed for the arcade, it is suitably simple.


Sega Out Run sit down cabinet at the Finnish Museum of Games, Tampere.
Photo by Tiia Monto.

My experience goes like this: I boot the game up, it kicks me right down. I struggle through the first stage, only to get GAME OVER shortly into the second. I try again. The game is hard as balls, except it doesn’t feel like it should be. I know what I must do, and I know how to do it, the controls are as simple as can be, and the art design is clean and clear enough that the aged graphics aren’t a hazard. It still feels like a game designed to eat coins.

‘I’ll get it next time’ I think.

I do not get it next time.

To replicate 3D space and speed, the accelerator controls how quickly the road and environment hurtle at your face, rather than moving the car forward. For this re-release developers M2 have upgraded from the original 30 frames per second to 60 (the original rate can be unlocked as a bonus) ensuring that it feels very smooth and very bloody fast. Reaction times are severely tested. Cars arrogantly slide your way as you fly at 280 km/h, flipping you up and over and out of the car as you collide, eating up precious seconds.

GAME OVER.

Again.

The smoothness of the world as it flies at you is hypnotic, like the Millennium Falcon shifting into hyperspace, and so I start again.

Each time I do a little better, but I still suck.

The sunny synth sounds and colourful palette has made Out Run the namesake for 80’s nostalgia. r/outrun has 261,000 subs. I wonder, how many of them were alive in the 80s? I’d wager very few, but ultimately the aesthetics are timeless, and it is little wonder they are continually celebrated and revived across generations. It is more surprising that the mechanics of the game have aged well too. The game is just fun. It isn’t exactly Assassins Creed Odyssey in terms of content, and the port doesn’t add that much of note, but since it comes in at a price of £5.99 that doesn’t feel like such a negative.

The ingenious design choices which surpassed the technological limitations of the time are still brilliant, and the addictive nature of the arcade prevails although, thankfully, this time precious coins are replaced with a simple click of a button.

The big question though, is it worth going back to in favour of newer content? Your time is precious, should you spend it here when it’s possible to access Forza Horizon 4 for a month on Xbox Game Pass for £7.99? That game is a triumph, oozing with content, graphical class, and makes going fast fun in a far less mind-boggling manner than Out Run. Yet, there is just something about SEGA’s old dog which makes me think it is worth a revisit, for the right player. It is a very concise, absolutely measured experience. It is arcade excellence. It is about player skill, about learning the stages, and mastering the controls. It is also about a soundtrack which has aged wonderfully. The tracks are prototypical of modern synthwave and for a certain audience (me) that alone, matched with the sunny retro art style, is worth the price of admission.   

Final Verdict: If the aesthetic gets you going, hop on board. If classic arcade mechanics are your thing, get behind the wheel. If neither of things are your bag, then drive on by, because you’ve got better things to do.

Over and over and over and over…

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