[Games of Summer is a recurring seasonal retrospective highlighting those magical titles that evoke wondrous thoughts of warm weather, carefree days, and discovery. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll reflect on said titles and analyze why they meant so much to us then -- and just as much now.]
Fast cars. A hot female companion. The open road. Killer music.
These four elements, ones that tap into the most passionate element of the teenage male psyche, were brought together in most excellent form in Yu Suzuki’s 1986 classic Outrun. The earliest I remember playing the game was in the summer of ’89, an odd transitional season between junior high school and high school. A transitional period that walked arm in arm with the core of SEGA’s arcade racer.
A half-assed, hole-in-the-wall arcade that opened behind the O’Dwyer Gardens housing project in Coney Island was the location where I first saw the game (looking back, I’m pretty certain it was the home for many illegal activities). I’d seen other kids pop coins into Outrun, but the game never made an impact until I saw my best friend cross the finish line in back to back session using completely different routes. That may not come off as a reflection-worthy moment to contemporary gamers, but back in the late ’80s (a time when gassing and braking in a linear fashion from point A to point B was the norm) this freedom was greatly appreciated.
Outrun, even 25 years later, is all about extreme replayability. After selecting one of three racing tunes (“Magical Sound Shower,” “Passing Breeze,” “Splash Wave”) you speed through a series of four checkpoints, each of which acts as a fork in the road that requires you to select the path. With five different endings, it was a machine that demanded more than a little bit of my cash.
The varied environments played a major role in making this a memorial summer game. I didn’t travel much farther than where the MTA could bring me, so seeing the mountains, fields, and towns lovingly rendered using SEGA’s Super-Scaler technology was the digital equivalent of going on a cross-country road trip. Burning rubber, ironically, proved a relaxing tour of places that I never thought a poor Brooklyn kid would ever see in person.
I truly believe, in retrospect, that Outrun spoke to me on a deeper level. I was heading to high school, a time when young men and women began to plot their futures. We had to make choices–not just about the high school that we wanted to attend, but classes we wanted to take and the new faces that we wanted to date–not to mention college. I spent the last job-free summer break of my life plopping my Mom’s quarters into this machine inbetween stickball sessions, reading comics on the shore, and hunting for rare baseball cards.
Outrun will forever bring me back to a place of total freedom, either on the virtual road or in summer memories.