Review: Hang-On (Master System)

Hang-On is a legendary game, spawned from the mind of the great Yu Suzuki It has spawned many sequels in the second and third dimension, and has spawned even more imitators. The Sega Master System version is a port of the original arcade title, and launched with the system in 1986.

I've played a few other third person 2D motorcycle games this year. Riding Hero for the Neo Geo CD was a blatant rip-off of Hang-On, and it was awful. Super Burnout for Atari's Jaguar was inspired by Hang-On, and is brilliant. So it has been interesting to go back and play the game that started it all.

The premise of Hang-On is simple. You must make it through 8 courses, each with 5 different checkpoints. To complete the game, you must make it through all 8 courses. You have 60 seconds to make it to the first check point. If you make it through quicker, an additional time is carried over to the next checkpoint, and you are awarded an additional 60 seconds. In all, each course should take around 5 minutes. The entire game around 40.

Each of the five checkpoints represents 5 different environments, Circuit, Seaside, Monument Valley, City Night and Circuit (at sunrise). The first 3 checkpoints actually look similar enough that I didn't even notice they were different the first few times I played. The background objects change slightly; as does the accent coloring on the road, but otherwise the first 3 stages are quite similar. The final two checkpoints are very different, with one featuring dark blues representing night, and the other a very bright shade of orange, mimicking a sunset.

The controls are simple enough, with a gas button and a brake button. The left and right buttons steer. The up and down buttons shift through the 3-speed gear box. Unfortunatly, the Sega Master System controller has a bad d-pad, making precise movements needlessly tough. Using a Sega Genesis control greatly improves the experience.

Graphically Hang-On, like most first generation Sega Master System games, hasn't held up very well. The bikes and your opponents are small, as are all of the road side obstacles. The backgrounds are fairly uninspired. The sense of speed is decent though, and the frame rate is smooth. Still, this game hasn't aged well.

The sound in Hang-On is awful. There is a generic tune at when you fire up the game, as well as when you finish a course. That's it for music. The engine noise is a generic humming noise that gets more annoying as you increase your speed. When you pass by opponents, there is a generic whoosh sound. There is also a weak explosion sound when you crash into things. Lastly, there is a weird high-pitched beeping noise when you lose grip in the turns. That's it, that's all of the sound this cart pumps out.

Both of my Sega Master System's have Hang-On built into them, additional I own it on a multi-cart with both Safari Hunt and Astro Warrior. Yet throughout the years I have never really enjoyed the title. Finally, after really spending some time with it, I have come to appreciate it.

First, it took me a while before I was disciplined enough not to bump the up and down arrows needlessly shifting gears. The next hurdle was to not play this like a racing game. You need to play it like Pac-Man. Just move left and right, and let off the accelerator when you lose grip in the turns. Not crashing into things is the name of the game here (Hang-On, get it?). Sometimes you can get away with crashing once per checkpoint, but more than that, and it's over.

The replay value in Hang-On is fairly low though. After making it through the first 5 checkpoints, the game simple repeats 8 times: same environments, same track layout, same everything. The game does include 3 difficulty options, which increase the amount of traffic you must contend with. But avoiding more bikes doesn’t really make the game more fun.

So with that, I kind of like Hang-On. The controls are simple, the goals are simple, and the game has that 80's arcade addictive quality to it. Those hoping for a deep racing game need to look elsewhere. But for 80’s arcade junkies, you could do worse.

Overall, Hang-On is an average game. The graphics are basic, and the sound is borderline annoying. I'm not sure how faithful the game play is to the original arcade title, but there is some fun to be had here. The twitchy arcade style game play is oddly addicting. If you own a Sega Master System, chances are you already own this game, give it a try.

Graphics 3/10 - Basic
Sound 2/10 - Bad
Game play 5/10 - Not really about racing
Overall 5/10 - Simple but mildly addicting