Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. For people of a certain age Out Run represents days long past, a wonderful era when arcades reigned supreme and home systems paled in comparison. During this time, many valiant attempts were made to produce a home version of Yu Suzuki's 1986 driving masterpiece. However, the 'Super Scaler' technology that gave Out Run its 3D effect (through clever use of sprite scaling) proved too difficult to replicate for the programmers of yesteryear, hampered by less than capable hardware. Since its début almost 30 years ago, only a handful have ever managed to come close to the original arcade experience, most notably the rather impressive Sega Saturn version back in 1996.
Fast forward to present day and 3D Out Run is finally hitting the eShop in Europe and North America (having been available in Japan since April last year). It really does take Sega ages – but is it worth the wait?
The overall premise is simple - race against an ever decreasing time limit through 5 courses, avoiding traffic and roadside obstacles in order to arrive at the finish line. A junction at the end of each course throws up a quick left or right route decision, following which the scenery magically transitions into the next location. Checkpoints provide valuable bonus time and, if successful, one of 5 possible endings will be reached.
There's no rival to beat, no race to be won. It's the player versus the open road and that road is gorgeous. Inspired partly by the designer's travels across Europe, expect to cruise past lush greenery and old windmills, iconic Stonehenge-style bridges and palm trees, all against a backdrop of mountain ranges and lush sunsets. It's a joyous mixture of course designs that can be tackled in either their original Japanese running order or the (default) revised western version (which re-arranges certain course positions on the map as well as a few other minor differences).
M2 has worked wonders with the Nintendo 3DS hardware to deliver a more-than-perfect version of the original game. For starters, the frame rate is set at a super-smooth 60fps, even with the 3D slider at maximum; this is no mean feat when you consider the original arcade only managed 30fps. In addition the display is now presented in widescreen, taking full advantage of the dimensions available; even purists are catered for with an unlockable 30fps 'arcade' mode along with 4:3 screen options. You can also simulate any of the original arcade cabinet designs, complete with steering wheel and pedal sound effects.
The 3D effect works fantastically (especially on a New Nintendo 3DS) and adds a satisfying sense of depth, most noticeably in stages with plenty of background scenery. The other drivers on the road are rather erratic and can switch lanes at a moment's notice, so the enhanced depth perception can make weaving between traffic and understanding when to drop the accelerator or brake much more obvious.
For every different end goal reached, a new feature becomes available in the form of a tuning item. These can be toggled on or off via the touchscreen before beginning each game. Pleasingly changing the colour and/or shape of the car, each item affects car handling in one of four ways: better turning, less penalty for hitting traffic, higher top speed and the game-changing ability to drive off road with no speed loss. (For those of you good at mathematics – the 5th and final goal unlocks the 'arcade' 30fps mode mentioned previously) Tuning items can all be switched on or off independently of each other, making for a variety of set-up options. In a well thought out decision, there is even a separate scoreboard whenever tuning options are activated.
No review of Out Run would be complete without delving into the simply superb soundtrack, which is integral to the overall experience. It's tough to choose between Passing Breeze, Magical Sound Shower or Splash Wave, each of these tracks being an undisputed classic. Playing with the volume up is not only recommended, it's practically a necessity. Developer M2 went one step further and commissioned two additional new tracks for the 3DS version; 'Cruising Line' and 'Camino a Mi Amor'. Both are nice enough and fit in just fine, but sound a little bit like B-Sides in comparison to the stunning originals.
It's clear that nothing can ever replace the sublime experience of sitting inside a hulking, moving arcade cabinet, steering wheel shaking and Passing Breeze pumping out of the speakers. But with arcades becoming increasingly rare, the Nintendo 3DS version steps up to the table and makes up for its diminutive size by packing in plenty of extra features, stunning presentation and immaculate controls. (Note: the Ferrari license still doesn't feature) It may have taken the best part of three decades, but M2 has delivered what is quite simply the best ever home version of Out Run. A fantastic version of a timeless classic and another victory punch for Sega's 3D Classics range - 3D Out Run is a beautiful journey that everybody should take.