Released in arcades in 1986, Out Run was a thundering success for Sega as it gobbled quarters and tokens from one side of the world to the next selling over an estimated 20,000 units.
As Yu Suzuki has put it in an interview with Retro Gamer, Out Run was a “driving” game versus a racing one and that’s exactly how it felt. You weren’t competing against other racers on the road — only the clock and how quickly you could make it to each checkpoint to earn more time to improve your score and sign your own initials onto the scoreboard.
It was also a technical achievement that left every other racer up to that time in the dust. No one had seen anything quite like it before and arrived on the floor in several different variations. There was the usual stand up cabinet with a steering wheel and simple gear stick to the right, and then there was the deluxe model that tried to bring the experience even closer to the gamer.
That took the form of a sit down cabinet fashioned to look like the rear end of the Ferrari Testarossa that Yu Suzuki used as a model for the car in the game. Not only that, but it even moved in response to the player’s actions. The game also fed force feedback into the steering wheel, vibrating when hard turns were being made.
But it was what Sega and Yu Suzuki’s team did with the graphics that glazed eyeballs around the world with a vast array of colors, scaling sprites using techniques learned on titles such as Space Harrier and Hang-On, two other Sega classics, creating a 3D-like chase camera view behind the car in far more lush surroundings than what Pole Position had delivered years earlier in 1982. All game long, players would follow the car from behind and steer it and its blonde-headed passenger through an undulating course. Namco and others had paved the way, but Sega’s OutRun had taken it to an amazing, visual level.
Not only that, but it also had music — three tracks that players could pick from as if they were tuning a radio station using the steering wheel. It was an innovative first for the arcades, and for gaming in general, letting the player choose what they wanted to be as their personal theme music whether it was the soothing tropical coolness of Magical Sound Shower, the relaxing sounds of Passing Breeze, or the rocking beats of Splash Wave. Sega veteran, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, was responsible for the music having worked on both Hang-On and Space Harrier’s themes before OutRun.
Gameplay was simple — as a clock ran down, players would race ahead to the end of each stage where they would be given a choice of roads to go down. Heading left usually meant an easier race with more challenging turns and traffic on the right. The game simply ended when the entire race is completed or if they run out of time.
Given its massive success in the arcades, Out Run was quickly ported over to as many platforms as possible to capitalize on its runaway success. When the computer ports arrived in the UK via U.S. Gold in 1987, it sold a quarter of a million copies making it the best selling computer game that year in the country. Back then, any computer game that sold that much was considered a titanic blockbuster on the level of what Activision’s Call of Duty has done during the Xbox 360/PS3 generation. People simply went crazy over OutRun and the music that it came with. For ports that couldn’t simulate the sound on their chosen platform, a few of those actually came with a cassette that could be played alongside the game.
A number of Sega’s systems, such as the Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis, would get their own ports while computer platforms ranging from the Amiga, MS-DOS, Amstrad, Atari ST, the MSX, and even mobiles today, would get a bit of Out Run in their collections.
The legacy of Yu Suzuki’s early masterpiece was nothing short of legendary. Years (and five games) later, it would have an “official” sequel, Out Run 2 in 2003, released to arcades and eventually ported over to the Xbox in 2004. Even now, if you can find the original OutRun cabinet or unlock it in OutRun 2 on the Xbox, it still holds up reasonably well as a fun and carefree drive through paradise.