Review: Out Run (Master System)

Out Run is yet another arcade hit from Sega originating from the 1980's. It was designed by famed Yu Suzuki and was his follow-up to Hang On. Like most of Sega's arcade titles of the era, the game was ported to Sega's home console, the Master System.

What Out Run does for me is cement the reason the Sega Master System failed in the United States. With Nintendo's monopoly of third party developers in the late 80's, Sega relied on arcade ports to fill the ailing system's library. For the most part, the limited hardware wasn't capable of capturing the magic of those arcade titles. Lackluster arcade ports don't make for a very compelling gaming system.

Alright, back on topic. Out Run lets you get behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa, and drive through 5 stages to reach the checkered flag. You don't race against competitors, but against the clock. You start the game with 80 seconds, and must reach the first checkpoint before time runs out. Each checkpoint there after gives you slightly less time, and the time you have remaining does carry over. On average, making it through the 5 stages took me between 5:05 and 5:25 seconds.

What makes Out Run unique is the branching paths. Before each checkpoint, you get to choose to go left or right. Each will bring you to a different stage, complete with different sprites, colors, and backgrounds. In total, there are 15 stages, and 5 different endings. Despite each race taking only 5 minutes or so, there is some replay value in taking the different paths to see all the game has to offer. Additionally, each of the 5 endings is worth the price of admission.

The game play is similar to Sega's Hang On port. You shift gears with the up and down button, and thankfully there are only 2 gears instead of 3. But the same problem remains, it's to easy to accidentally shift down and lose speed and momentum. Other than that, you let off the accelerator in the bends and avoid traffic.

One of the main problems with Out Run is that the hardware isn't up to the task of recreating the arcade hit. The game attempts to simulate hills and valleys. When going up a hill, you can't see what is coming up ahead. That means it's hard to avoid traffic, and you can't tell if the road is going to turn the opposite way, meaning you hit a tree or a billboard. You will spend quite a bit of time memorizing each of the stages if you wish to see one of the endings.

Out Run is more forgiving than many racers of this era. When you run into an opponent, you don't explode are screech to a halt, but rather do a 360 spin and lose some speed. This is nice because you can be a little more aggressive with overtaking without a mistake ruining your race.

Graphically speaking, Out Run is a big step up over Hang On. The backgrounds are more interesting, the track side obstacles are more varied, and the traffic is more detailed. Even on the Master System you can make out Porches, VW Beatles, and Corvettes. The sense of speed is decent and everything runs fairly smooth.

What does stand out in Out Run is the soundtrack. Before the race, you get to select between three different songs, Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower, and Passing Breeze. Each song is long and soothing, and ranks up there with the original Tetris sound track. They are that good! They go a long way in making Out Run a palatable game. Unfortunately, there is no engine noise coming from the 12 cylinder Italian engine.

At the end of the day though, Out Run did win me over. The game is challenging, but not frustrating. Unlike Hang On, there is a reason to play this game over and over: to see all 15 stages. The excellent sound track helps create a zen like experience. While some of the stages are frustrating, as it's not always easy to tell which way the track is going, a little memorization helps reduce the problem.

Overall, Out Run is a decent title for the Sega Master system. The controls are simple, and the music is excellent. The branching paths and alternate endings offer a lot of replay value, and it will take a good amount of time to thoroughly complete this title. If you are looking for a hidden gem that sets the Master System apart from the Nintendo, you may be disappointed. If you are looking for a cheap entertaining Sega Master System game, this is for you.

Graphics 6/10 - Colorful and smooth
Sound 6/10 - Excellent sound track, but no engine noise?
Game play 5/10 - Basic controls
 Overall 6/10 - Better than average