Joysticks and Gear Shifts: OutRun

Max Prince chases down the good, bad, and bizarre from the golden age of coin-operated motoring arcade games. This time, he opens a fine bottle of SEGA OutRun and finds out if this '86 has mellowed or turned.

Max Prince
Max is an American motoring writer who, upon being gifted an old coin-operated video arcade, rediscovered the beauty of classic driving games. He now contributes to Road & Track, but still has scars from working in XCar's London offices many moons ago.
Max Prince
2 min read

For the dedicated petrolhead, SEGA's OutRun has two major offerings: a red Ferrari, and one of the greatest crash animations of all time. Remember when Eddie Griffin's Enzo wreck went viral? Yeah, this is way better.

In OutRun, you play as a sleeveless badass racing through some sort of high-speed gumball driving a red Testarossa droptop. With a sultry 2D blonde riding shotgun, you charge through four stages collecting checkpoints for extended plays while avoiding traffic. Sure, OutRun lets you choose from three radio stations prior to takeoff, but they're mostly awful...what the hell genre is "Magical Sun Shower"? What we really want is car noises. Unfortunately, the Testarossa's digital 4.9-liter contributes only a gentle hum to the soundtrack -- best key up some 458 Italia exhaust clips for background noise.

OutRun is primarily about avoiding traffic at high speeds. Gameplay is rear third-person, so spotting potential obstacles isn't too difficult. Avoiding them, though, can prove a challenge. Other cars (all generic riffs, including the Porsche 911 and Ford Mustang, among others) and big-rig trucks generally stay in their lanes, but often they're awkwardly spaced, forcing you to make a quick decision whether to mash the brakes or try and maneuver through. Most early racing games had players locked into a lane and merely jumping between them, but OutRun lets you move freely across three- and five-lane roads. It's funny how even in a game old enough for male pattern baldness landing the perfect, surgical dissection of passing traffic is a satisfying experience.

Failing to do so, however, is hilarious.

Bump another car and you'll jackknife, scrubbing speed; hit an object off-road, and you'll catapult the Testarossa like dropping Mentos in a Coke bottle. Both your character (who looks like an underfed version of Snake from "The Simpsons") and your miniskirt-clad escort tumble through the air, then rag doll across the motorway while the Ferrari rolls away.

Trust me, it takes a while for this animation to get stale.

Wiping out is a semi-regular occurrence, too, as it's sometimes difficult to judge your speed relative to an upcoming corner. But that's all part of the fun; losing in OutRun is more silly than frustrating. The biggest issue with the game is really the lack of car noises -- yes, it's from 1986, but SEGA could have clipped some sort of exhaust noise to play over the mind-numbing Japanese jazz synth.

Even with a mute Ferrari, OutRun is a righteous old school title. There isn't loads of replay value (just a fork at each stage with an easy route and a difficult one) but it's a prime example of classic arcading that car guys can get behind. Staring at the Testarossa's rear is pleasant even in low-def, and watching its occupants skip across the pavement like rocks on a pond is nothing less than captivating.

Acing OutRun is definitely worth the change in your pockets.