So lately I’ve been thinking about why I like Outrun over other racers of the same genre – especially the original game. I thought the best way to explore why I love the series is to discuss each game and my experience with it.
The first Outrun really showed off the Super Scalar engine developed by Sega’s AM2 division. This way of presenting graphics was also used in games like Afterburner, Hang-On, Space Harrier, and others. Remember those pop-up storybooks you had as a kid? This is like that, but in the form of a game. Everything remains 2D while scaling up and down as your car approaches (in a style that’s kind of like Paper Mario when you think about it) – and that’s something I’ve always liked about this series.
And Outrun was never (in my opinion) designed to be a realistic racer. Back in the day, that monumental task was being done (maybe poorly) in arcades and on consoles with the original Need for Speed games. Wisely – instead of simulation – Outrun is and remains a fun, arcade experience with a lot of drifting and maybe-not-so-realistic physics. I think (to me) this is a lot of the charm. Outrun is over the top, but not too over the top (as would happen with the Cruis’n series).
When compared to other arcade cabs and systems at the time, the graphical style in Outrun is fairly impressive – especially when you get to certain parts of the level with columns, trees, etc. The super scalar mode simulates 3D but with 2D textured sprites (that grow, shrink, and tilt based on your car position). That’s where the name of the technique comes from – the hardware that scales sprites based on the position of the view (in this case the car).
(Galaxy Force II on the left and Atari’s Stun Runner on the right)
Super Scalar graphics were actually impressive at the time, because true 3D polygonal graphics in other systems were essentially textureless. Compare those later 3D games to this 3D-effect-simulation using textured sprites and you see why it was a big hit long past its prime.
I think the fact that Sega used hand-drawn pixel sprites has also made the game age well also. Early polygonal games (on consoles think the early PS1 and N64) just don’t look good these days. This was a time where memory was expensive and without it, you couldn’t really do texture mapping for your 3D shapes. The first Outrun predates that, so it’s skates by on it’s pixel-art charm.
Besides graphics, the audio (just the idea presented here – of you controlling your car radio) was great in Outrun as well. Outrun remains a relaxing game. You really get that being-at-the-beach vibe when playing it. Not many games (especially back then) let the player select the soundtrack. So it’s kind of remarkable that this 80’s arcade game lets you select a track. I feel like the next well-known successor with this feature was Grand Theft Auto (we’re talking years later). I suppose Cruis’n USA also let you select the radio with a button as well.
Of course Outrun went through many iterations and saw ports on many systems over the years. Going over these, I’ll cite all the various options I can think of to play this glorious game. Of course you can learn a lot more about these various ports (and in more detail) on Hardcore Gaming 101 over here.
This (the original) is just simply an awesome game. I mean all the Sega Super Scalar arcade games are great (and they were truly amazing to behold in the arcades during a time where active competitors included Frogger and Pac-Man). Outrun was always special to me.
I’ve played the sit-down version and I’ve played the stand-up version. I actually prefer the sit-down just because the pedal on the stand-up always felt odd to me. I believe (just from memory) that all of them have force-feedback on the steering wheel and the deluxe version even tilted the body (I just encountered this one a few times at a mall arcade).
All arcade versions of arcade Outrun are great and this is a great game (so check it out via MAME if you haven’t already or – better yet – find a real arcade cab).
If you can’t make it to an arcade, the Sega Saturn version (found on the Sega Ages compilation and standalone in Japan) is a nearly-arcade-perfect port that you can legally own. The US version (ported by Working Designs believe it or not) is very expensive I’m sorry to say, and the Japanese one – while more affordable – isn’t exactly cheap either (and you’ll need a JP Saturn or an Action Repro cart to play it). I believe the standalone Japan version has better audio (but they may be the same actually).
If you just want to use the roms and try this out without buying, you could just use MAME, but there is a better option. Recently there’s been an emulator for PC (Linux) and even Raspberry Pi (Retropie) that does a great job upping the quality of the original arcade while keeping the spirit and style of the original. The site is here. Like MAME, this emulator still requires the original roms – which you must supply yourself. The arcade Outrun game was inspired by 1981 movie CannonBall Run- hence the name.
The emulator adds a lot of cool features like 60 fps, continuous/time trial mode, force feedback support, etc. I tried it out on my Raspberry Pi 3 (that’s overclocked a little) and it’s awesome in the original mode, but runs slow with graphic enhancements (even just wide-screen) on. I’m sure this wouldn’t be a problem on a somewhat modern PC.
Arcade Outrun also made an appearance on the Dreamcast in the game Shenmue (both 1 and 2). I don’t think this is as good as the previous versions and I’d definitely recommend the Saturn version over this. It’s funny because I ended up playing Shenmue originally just to get to these arcade machines back when it was out in stores.
Sega Master System
The Sega Master System port of Outrun is a technical marvel really. For the system limitations, it is actually a competent port. Of course you’d expect this from a Sega console (given Outrun was a Sega game), but it’s still nice that it’s out there as an option. When you compare this to Rad Racer on the NES, there’s really no contest. Outrun is just great.
I’m actually really surprised at how good this game looks on the SMS, but when it gets to the parts with the super scalar graphics, things turn a little ugly. I guess that’s to be expected.
Sega Game Gear
Most Game Gear games are ports of Sega Master System titles (given the hardware was so similar), but Outrun on the handheld isn’t. And while the Game Gear had more of a color-space than the Master System, this port is really a graphics-downgrade from the console (which is odd since you can play SMS games on a Game Gear, so you’d think it would have been a better port). I guess you could play the SMS version on the Game Gear with a cartridge adapter if you were really serious about it.
I think Sega was going for simpler graphics since the Game Gear screen was so small, but this version isn’t really up to quality as a standalone Outrun experience (it’s of course great if you collect and play Game Gear, however). I mean even a mediocre Outrun port is a solid racer compared to other racers on the handheld. And this certainly beat out racers on the Lynx or on the Game Boy.
There was also Outrun Europa – which was on Sega Master System as well. It really reminds me of a mix between the original GTA and Road Rash game. Compared to Outrun, it’s just a completely different experience (with a lot more mission and spy elements). I can’t really recommend it as a true Outrun game, but it plays better than the Game Gear Outrun on the racing elements.
Sega Genesis / PC Engine
Outrun also came out on on the 16-bit consoles and the inclusion is a definite step up from the 8-bit Master System. However, this couldn’t compete with the arcade due to the system power differences (this was well before consoles had caught up to arcade cabs).
The Sega Genesis release was indeed a competent port and I do enjoy playing it on that system. I actually perfer to play this game with Gabriel Pyron’s color rom hack so that it more-closely resembles the arcade. Pyron has also modified other games like Golden Axe in the same manner, so you definitely want to look into those.
You can apply the patch to the rom (that you supply of course) yourself (here’s a link to the forum post). I believe there are also reproduction carts employing this colored rom if you want a physical representation (gray area legally of course). I especially love playing this on my Sega Nomad.
The PC Engine (the Japanese TG-16) version is a little graphically-diminished from the Genesis version, but plays just fine. On a handheld (like the TurboExpress), this would be a great version to play (but we’ll get to other options in a bit if this is out of your price range).
Before the color hack for the aforementioned Genesis version, I preferred the PC Engine due to it looking more like the arcade, but now I’d say to stay with the Genesis version. It doesn’t really matter though if you just want to play the game (both are quite satisfactory). If PCE is your thing, you’ll do quite well with this port.
Nintendo Gameboy Advance / 3DS
There was finally a version of this game on a Nintendo handheld with the Sega Arcade Gallery release (which came along with Afterburner, Super Hang-On, and Space Harrier).
This version looks and plays fantastically on the little handheld – as it was already suited to do the sprite scaling (as a progression of the Mode 7 from the SNES days being modified for the handheld) – just like in the original arcade required. I highly recommend this for playing Outrun on the go if you’re into GBA. I’m very happy we had this addition to the GBA library.
However – amazing as the GBA version is – it pales in comparison to the 3D Outrun that Sega put out on the Nintendo e-Shop recently. That version has all of the original arcade game, runs at 60 fps (similar to the cannonball emulator), and contains two extra tracks and a stage select. While only available digitally in the US, there is a physical release – part of the Sega 3D Fukkoku Archives.
Sadly the 3DS is region locked, so you’ll need a JP or jail-broken 3DS system to play the physical cart on your handheld. However, the titles are purchasable separately (and affordably) on the Nintendo 3DS e-Shop, so that route is highly recommended if you’re an Outrun aficionado. Look for Nintendo’s periodic sales to save even more.
As you may know, the 3DS had – for many years – tried to get games to focus on the 3D/stereoscopic effect (most first-party titles had it as an included gimmick). And the super-scalar games presented in the Sega 3D archives really showcase that effect. They look amazing and the sprites really pop off the screen. It really feels natural here.
Now I know some people really don’t like the 3D-effect on the handheld and that’s fine. You can turn it off (or play on the later 2DS systems that don’t even have it) and the game still looks and plays fantastic at 60 fps. So if you have access to a 3DS (and the 2DS is very cheap these days) give this Outrun a try to get a better-than-the-arcade experience on a handheld.
Playstation 2 / Xbox
As part of the Sega Ages (‘Ages’ is ‘Sega’ backwards) ports for the PS2, Outrun got a release (similar to the Saturn, but with an enhanced port in actual 3D). This was 2500 Series Vol. 13 for that Japanese series. Fortunately for westerners, it came out here as part of the very-affordable Sega Classics Collection. This is definitely a budget-friendly way to legally play the arcade game on your console.
Sega – like other companies – weren’t content just letting you have the arcade version (and I do applaud them for adding more value). They attempted to produce a 3D-enhanced remake; and, like the other 3D ports of Sega franchises at the time (including Golden Axe), this enhanced port leaves much to be desired.
Sure the ‘original’ version is still there and is fairly faithful to the arcade, but the new ‘arrange’ mode comes off looking kind of like a PS1 racer (sort of with early 90’s texture mapping and with a car that’s just too big really). I personally sort of think the texturing was an intended style choice – to give the original game the 3D treatment – and I appreciate it for what it is. I know I’m down on it, but hey.. this is just a bonus feature. We should be thrilled to have something else to try – especially with the arcade version still being there.
In 2003 we got the PS2 port of the awesome arcade Outrun 2 on PS2 and Xbox. Unlike the earlier PS2 version, the graphics are much improved (as the game was made to look gorgeous and the hardware was up to the task). While the X-box version appears to be a true port of the arcade game, the PS2 Japanese version had that and more enhancements.
These features included 30 total courses (many US highways and with popular city skylines), enhanced AI, new Ferrari’s, new background music, etc. This is a great game – possible in part due to Sega dropping out of the console market to become software developers (hence why it’s on other systems). It’s really a shame that Sega didn’t make this sort of new Outrun for the Dreamcast before the system’s decline (but maybe the game really needed more hardware power to run).
And that leads me to my favorite Outrun game of all time: OutRun 2006 Coast to Coast.
Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
Think of this as an enhanced version of Outrun 2 – only with more features and a bit more polish. For example, now you can passively use the slipstream feature to get behind another car and essentially draft (gain a speed boost by reducing the effect of drag). But that’s really the least of all the awesome content contained in this release.
And The really great news is that this excellent game is on a bunch of systems – even PC and PSP! While the PC version is a little pricey the rest are widely available and affordable.
And the game runs very very well on all platforms – even on older PCs (even old mini-laptops) and (maybe more surprisingly) the Sony PSP. And with the bright colors on that handheld screen, it truly looks amazing and this game really takes full advantage of the system. Back on the PC version, the settings let you up the resolution well-past that of the era’s consoles if you want to use it with your modern HDTV. And the arcade mode in this game is essentially Outrun 2, so you might want to look into getting this game to play and maybe the other for collecting.
Coast to Coast is bright and colorful and has aged very well (mainly because it’s an arcade racer at heart instead of a sim game). The various tracks shift into day and night with fog and water effects and those are just neat additions to the experience. You do a lot of drifting in this game (like any Outrun really), but in this case you get a nice constant sense of speed and fluidity the whole way.
There are also plenty of mini-games to keep you occupied if you get tired of the standard races. You can hit beach-balls, dodge UFOs, attempt to hit cars, attempt to dodge cars. Instead of points, you score hearts from your girlfriend passenger. So your goal in these cases is to keep her happy (kind of like the passengers in Crazy Taxi paying you extra tips for near misses with other cars).
XBLA/PSN Version – Outrun Online Arcade
I know there was a later great version of Outrun on XBox live arcade and PSN, but sadly I never experienced it. Sega didn’t renew their Ferrari license in 2013 and the game was pulled off the marketplace (same thing happened with other games I love – like TMNT Arcade and Afterburner Climax). If we get another future version of Outrun, it probably won’t have the iconic Ferrari car in it. I’m fine with that. It’s the great gameplay that I went in for; not the car license.
Outrun is and continues to be a series that is near and dear to me. I’ve been playing it in some form or another basically my entire life. It’s essentially the series that got me into the racing game genre and it’s as fun today as it ever was.
I certainly love the other Sega racers like Daytona and Rally, but Outrun continues to be my go-to game for arcade racing fun.