Friday 13 May 2016

Mega Drive Review - Out Run 2019 (Game 106)

Think all 'OutRun' games involve fast red cars, tropical locales and amazing music? Think again. 

Developed by SIMS Co
Published by Sega
Released in 1993

Before 'Mario Kart' and 'Stunt Race FX' changed my opinion, I thought all racing games were the same. In everything I played you looked at the back of a car and moved it from left to right on the screen avoiding cars and scenery.

The illusion of speed was created by sprites increasing in size and hills and corners in the road varied the game play. I sound derogatory when I describe these early racing games but I did enjoy them. They all rather blended into one though and the reason why one stood out over another was largely down to factors outside of game play. I loved the 'Lotus'/'TopGear' games because of the music for example. But of all the similar games I loved 'Outrun' the most. It's "the consummate exhibit in an oversubscribed genre" Noao Diniz states in '1001 Video Games You Must Play before You Die’. "One of the most joyous experiences in video gaming".

As a Nintendo zealot, I had never played the game on a Mega Drive of course. But, I had played the arcade machine, I had played the game on a copied Amiga disc. Whenever I played it, I loved it. The game play only differed from the dozens of other similar games by including forks in the road. Yes they allowed you to chose the next section of track and the difficulty but that's not why 'Out Run' made such an impact on me. I loved 'Outrun' because of the ambiance, because of the music, because of the atmosphere. It presented a lifestyle I wanted; driving through beautiful locales in a big red Ferrari with an attractive blonde woman by my side. Yes the game play was recognisable; I could see it was dated and more repetitive than other driving games but that really didn't matter. 'Out Run' was listening to "Splash Wave" on the radio. It was driving past windmills and along beaches. It was being slapped by a stroppy blonde passenger because you'd crashed into a tree.

When Yu Suzuki set about designing the game he wanted it to feel different to the many racing games that were coming to market. "Mainstream driving games at that time were designed simply to improve your driving skills, so I wanted to buck against that and create a game where you drive a car with one hand on the steering wheel and a beautiful woman in the passenger seat".

This is why I have trouble enjoying 'Out Run 2019'. On paper everything about the game play may be better, but it is clearly 'Out Run' without all the best bits. 

It'll come as no surprise to anyone that this Mega Drive exclusive game was only given the 'Out Run' branding to boost sales. 'Out Run 2019' was originally developed for the Mega CD as a game called 'Cyber Road'. Development was then moved to the Mega Drive where it was initially renamed 'Junker's High'. As the final name would suggest, the game is set in 2019. While this may not sound very distant now in 1993 this seemed quite futuristic. Evidently, in three years time we won't be driving red sports cars we will be behind the wheel of black rocket powered cars. Like 'Out Run' the object of the game is to race against a time limit reaching a check point or goal before a timer runs out. Like the original 'Out Run' there is a fork in the road before each checkpoint, however in '2019' races are shorter and the game is split up into stages. This is quite a smart idea as it means failure in the final section of the game won't return you to the very start, as were the case in the original. Instead you have the option of picking up at the start of a stage. 

Developer SIMS Co must have looked at 'Out Run' and thought of ways that it could be improved. The game is noticeably faster and not simply because the speedometer tells you you're going at 580kph. The turbo boost that kicks in after going at top speed for a few seconds makes the game play more exciting, where crashes come thick and fast and levels flash by. 'Out Run' may have had 20 levels but the truth is the only difference between them is the background, the number of corners and the trackside obstacles. 'Out Run 2019' however offers levels with claustrophobic tunnels and even jumps over hazards. There are transparent bridges with no barriers where even the slightest mistake means a time wasting fall. The backgrounds are also far more detailed than in the original 'Outrun', though it's a shame that the developers didn't take the futuristic concept and run with it. Moody 'Blade Runner' style cityscapes are all well and good, but alien spaceships would have been far more exciting. 

Like me, Game Fan Magazine was surprised by the game play improvements found in 'Out Run 2019'. They admit they're “really stunned by the quality of this game. The control is excellent and the variety of courses really adds to the fun of the game". The magazine even claims that the new game play mechanics "make 'Outrun 2019' much better than the original". However, even with all its refinements, it's larger stage roster and it's go faster stripes I fail to see why anyone would pick '2019' over 'Outrun'. At no point did I feel like I was living a dream.

Bland techno music by made-up bands could never compare to "Magical Sound Shower" or any of Hiroshi Kawaguchi wonderful laid-back Japanese-jazz-beach music with its Latin Caribbean beats. Without a blonde bikini model in the passenger seat who am I trying to impress by passing the finishing line with 9 seconds left on the clock. With its glass roads and neon lights, ‘2019’ was somber and serious, a far cry from the celebration of colour and vibrancy seen in 'Outrun'.

Designer Yu Suzuki famously said that 'Out Run' is not "a racing game" but a "driving" game. "You win the race by huge margin with no real challenge posed by any other drivers" he said in Sega Mega Drive/ Genesis: Collected Works. 'Outrun 2019' however poses a far greater challenge, where races can be won in nail biting finishes and only perfect driving yields victory. It is a racing game, where your opponents are named at the end and you keep replay till you finally see that chequered flag. What could possibly be better than finally beating a rival? Nothing other than driving a Testarossa past Moai statutes while listening to "Passing Breeze" on your virtual radio. 

I pride myself on being able to see past poor graphics, I often claim it's all about the game play. However, 'Outrun 2019' proves that sometimes the better game isn't always the best game.

Where did I get this game from?

As with so many of my Mega Drive games I got 'Out Run 2019' in a local bulk buy. The smell of the instruction books was actually a good indicator of how much the previous owner played the games. Popular titles had documentation that was water damaged and stunk of smoke. Less appealing games annoyingly fairer better, presumably because the plastic cases were never open and they were exposed to fewer horrors. 'Outrun 2019' was in better condition than most. Presumably the previous owner, like me, played it and realised it wasn't the 'Out Run' they remember. It was then perhaps put back in the box and banished to the back of a cupboard, never to be played again. Maybe it should have stayed there. 

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