Have you seen the prices of OutRun 2019 lately? When did it get so bloody expensive? Man, we really wanted the Japanese version for that nice box art but sod that for a game of soldiers, I could buy a whole box of out-of-print horror movies on VHS for those prices. So, we're relying purely on emulation for this one, sorry. Also, yes, we probably should've done this in 2019, but you know what, the idea of doing a game set in the future a year after its supposed setting is incredibly funny to us, and when presented with the comedy option, Gaming Hell will always, always go for the comedy option. You should know that by now.
Bet you forgot the Mega Drive got its own exclusive OutRun spin-off!
Yes, weird OutRun off-shoots: they're not just for the Master System, you know.
Unlike some of the other, less well-regarded OutRun spin-off games, this one has a little pedigree behind it (and not every OutRun game on the Mega Drive necessarily had a good pedigree- did you know Tiertex developed the awful MD port of Turbo OutRun?!) so it's best to cover that first. OutRun 2019 was published by SIMS in Japan and Sega elsewhere, but a secret addition to the credits shows it was developed by Hertz who, critical to this piece, developed the Mega Drive port of the original OutRun. Not a one-to-one port of course, but it's considerably more competent than the likes of Super Thunder Blade in bringing the Super Scaler experience home. Fortunately, a concise history of the company is available in English thanks to an interview with former employee Tsunetomo Sugarwara over at GDRI- active between 1987 and 1993, Hertz were originally MSX2 developers creating games like Psycho World (released internationally for the Game Gear as Psychic World) and Hydefos, but the company found themselves in debt and switched over to porting games from other companies to help keep themselves afloat. Establishing a relationship with Sega subsidiary SIMS as a programmer there was a fan of Psycho World (which also apparently lead to the Sega ports of that game), Hertz would port Seibu Kaihatsu's Dynamite Duke, Tecmo's Tecmo World Cup and Sega's OutRun to the Mega Drive, but then make one more stab at some original titles for the Mega CD.
One of them, the RPG Vay, did get released (and famously got heavily tampered with for the US release by Working Designs, including a unique 'Game Over by seismic flatulence' feature) but the other, Cyber Road, was featured on Page 97 of BEEP! Mega Drive from May 1992 (thanks, GDRI) but ultimately not released on the system. Instead, development was moved to the Mega Drive, where the game was retitled Junker's High (we'll get back to that version) before SIMS suggested changing the name to something that sounds less like a medicinal café somewhere in Blackpool, and thus got the OutRun name slapped onto it with Sega's blessing. Not entirely unwarranted, as this race in the future does have OutRun-like elements already- you're not driving on a circuit, you're just on a turboride into the future-horizon, dodging unfriendly traffic and roadside hazards with your only real foe being the ever-decreasing clock. There's even branching paths, with a total of 30 different road segments to tackle across 4 different stages. Put the pedal to the metal and let's get movin', man!
OutRun 2019 was built using the same engine as Hertz's previous OutRun port according to Tsunetomo Sugawara albeit with plenty of changes as we'll see, but the basic controls are mostly the same for your new turbo hot-rod as they were for the humble Testarossa, with an accelerator, a brake, and both high and low gears to shift between (and this time you get a choice between manual or automatic transmission too). The steering is generally alright, about as good as you can expect for a game without any sort of analogue or wheel input, being responsive enough and with a small amount of fine-tuning possible, but you'll be relying on easing up on the gas or braking to make some turns, no matter how far you turn in. What makes OutRun 2019's car stand apart from both its predecessor and most of its contemporaries in the genre is the booster rocket strapped to the back of it. Holding down the accelerator builds up your power meter from left to right, blue to red, and if you max it out, the bar will slowly change to a flashing white. Your booster rockets kick in when the whole bar's flashing, giving you absolute top speed! This isn't just for show, your speed gets upped significantly and, more importantly, your car gets some benefits- you're less likely to spin out if you bump into something (this is a little touch-and-go, but it seems you'll get off with a light graze for free, but anything past that and you're more likely to lose your boost), you'll go further when you hit jump pads, and if you veer off-road, you'll only start to lose speed once the flashing meter drains and your rocket booster switches off. This is a really engaging mechanic as you have a bit of control over when the booster engages and disengages- letting go of the gas decreases the booster slowly while tapping the brakes kills it immediately- and as you play through each of the routes, you learn where it's best to punch it, where it's best to exploit the mercy time when going off-road, and where it's best to stop it from firing off entirely.
Now, while the game didn't start off as an OutRun game, it certainly keeps one of the defining features of the original, the branching paths, as at the end of most (but not all) routes in a stage, you'll find a fork in the road and have to pick one or the other. Unlike OutRun, paths will converge by the end of each set of routes (the most concurrent routes here is three compared to OutRun's five) so you will be seeing a lot of the same routes upon replays, but Hertz did their best to include as many interesting elements on the different routes to make it worth playing each one. The most commonly-used one is the raised highway- similar to the ocean-side segments in S.C.I. - Special Criminal Investigation by Taito, you can fall off these (safety rails are for cowards in the future, apparently) and lose a lot of time, so knowing when you can get away with using your rocket booster on these segments is even more important. There's a couple of other gimmicks and hazards, like pitfalls on the side of non-raised highways, unpaved segments of road that slow you down (there's usually a jump pad before these that catapult you safely across) and giant road-blocking CAUTION signs which spice up some of the routes.
However, some things have been lost from the original OutRun, specifically more intricate and unique roadside hazards- you don't have anything like the walls of rocks, being able to drive in the sea or the pillar-tunnel sequences. There's not quite as many roadside hazards in general really, which is why some of the screenshots feel a little bare here, and there's also not as many different enemy vehicle types. Being able to fall off highways makes up for it, I suppose, but it does lead to a little sameyness in some of the routes which could've been remedied with a few more unique obstacles. If nothing else, it means some of the routes lack that sense of identity that made the ones in OutRun stand out- even if they're essentially just set-dressing, some of those OutRun stages- the opening beach, the flower fields, the desert- stick in your mind, which isn't something that can be said of this game. One thing that could've helped but is sadly not implemented nearly enough is multiple routes within the same route- at the very start of Stage 1, for instance, veering to the left puts you on a raised highway while veering to the right keeps you grounded, and you can see bits of the road you didn't take from the one you're on, which is such a cool effect! In fact, if you're careful enough you can even drop from the highway down onto the ground and land safely, continuing on the lower route! Sadly this kind of mid-route changing isn't used much elsewhere beyond some jump pads on Stage 4 that let you switch from the low road to the high road, which is a shame, it could've been a neat way to add more variety to the game.
The other main weakness of the game is the presentation. It's a little on the drab side, with the general colour palette filled with darker hues of grey, brown, green and red, which you've probably picked up from the screenshots- if this was the original OutRun or one of its other sequels, things would feel a lot more 'Blue Skies in Gaming' on this page! Just one of the pitfalls of leveraging the OutRun name there. That ties in a little to a lack of variety, as some exciting or striking backgrounds could've helped with this- there is one that sticks with me, one with weird tree-like structures in the distance, but it's an exception rather than the rule. Some of the visual effects used are very good, I won't take that away from it- upper and lower tracks criss-cross and you can see the lower track on the upper one as mentioned before, some of the highways have a pretty convincing translucent effect, and tunnels often have different lighting, including one that turns everything a sunset-esque red- but the overall presentation is definitely not the best, especially the colour palette choices. This isn't just a problem with looking nice, it can also be an issue when actually playing the game- your car, enemy cars and jump pads all use the same palette so at high speeds you might briefly getting mixed up or not be sure what's ahead, which can lead to you either smashing into a car you thought was a jump pad, or missing a higher route because you thought it was a car ahead of you. The soundtrack is pretty great though, with Steal into the Night in particular being a favourite- contrary to what the manual says, hold C before starting a stage to select a music track!
If anything, using the OutRun name feels like a detriment to the game rather than an asset. OutRun 2019 didn't exactly get stellar write-ups at the time of its release, with prime UK-based examples from Mean Machines Sega (page 86) and Sega Force (page 100), both recommending the reader picks up Lotus Turbo Challenge instead. Both magazines also erroneously state that the game has battery back-up in either a case of that feature being stripped out super late (we'll get to that) or UK mags not being terribly accurate [Listen, whatever mistakes there were back then were entirely out the hands of all the Ed the Editors that were there before me and form my ancestry. - Ed] so make of that what you will. Back to the point though, while Mean Machines Sega acknowledges that the game was originally called Junker's High, both compare the game to others in the OutRun series, and not particularly favourably. I did too of course, repeatedly, but that's with knowing exactly who made it and what they built it off of, but I figure people would've been kinder to it had it just been released as something not connected to OutRun at all (Cyber Road or Junker's High, either is good honestly). So, looking at this game on its own and divorced as much as possible from the lineage forced upon it, OutRun 2019 is right in the middle of the scale. It's a pleasant little drive with an interesting, intertwined acceleration and turbo system, some neat little track gimmicks, but falls down hard on presentation and perhaps a lack of identity and unique trackside obstacles to some of the routes available. It's certainly not a bad little racer, but it's outclassed by some of its peers, which is a shame as the theming is novel enough for the time- maybe being restricted to the Mega Drive hardware was also a detriment, and we can only imaigine what a System 32 version would look like. A futuristic OutRunners? We can but wonder.
For being saddled with a legacy it's never be able to live up to, OutRun 2019 is awarded...
In a sentence, OutRun 2019 is...
Not a bad ride on the future highway.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Weirdly, despite being published by Sega in the West, OutRun 2019 has not been ported to everything under the sun.
In fact, there's only two places you're gonna find it outside its original release.
The first is very bizarre indeed. Well before the Mega Drive Mini, Sega licensed out their Mega Drive catalogue to Radica for a series of little Plug 'n Play consoles- you know, something like that Arcade Legends: Space Invaders unit or the dozens upon dozens of Atari Flashback consoles where you slam some batteries into the unit, plug it into you're TV and you're on your way. OutRun 2019 received a most unusual honour- it got one of these units all to itself in the form of Arcade Legends: OutRun 2019, complete with a steering wheel controller! I can't really trace an exact year for this beyond a dubious Amazon listing that puts it at 2007, so who knows when this thing came out. Despite appearances though, the controller does not magically give the game analogue or steering wheel support, it's purely digital. This doesn't make much sense... Until, as Classic Gaming Room points out above, you realise the shell here is actually from a Playstation 2 steering wheel controller Radica released, most likely beforehand. They simply reused the mould, removed some of the buttons and turned it into a Plug n' Play console. Cheeky. The emulation seems mostly alright here although dodgy sound is present and correct, as is the case with every Mega Drive Plug n' Play of this type, until the 2019 Mega Drive Mini anyway.
Speaking of... That leads nicely into the second place you'll find the game. You might be surprised to learn that OutRun 2019 did indeed make it onto one version of the Mega Drive Mini! It was one of four games exclusive to the Asian (that is to say, non-Japan parts of Asia) Mega Drive Mini alongside Alien Soldier, Shining Force II and Sword of Vermillion (and a mixture of games from the EU/US and Japan models). I imagine the original Mega Drive OutRun is difficult to rerelease without serious modification to the car sprite, so this is one way to get the franchise on there. The copyright is only attributed to Sega in the official promo video for the Mega Drive Mini in Asia so who knows why Sega's otherwise reluctant to rerelease it- seriously, this is it, it wasn't on the Wii Virtual Console, any of the many Mega Drive console collections, not even on any of those AtGames things (and they have Jewel Master and Arrow Flash, you never see those games elsewhere either) or anything. A true mystery.
Next, a quick look at the Debug Mode options outlined over at The Cutting Room Floor.
After pressing Start on the title screen, press Up twice, A once, B twice and C seven times then press Start which should take you straight to the Options menu. This adds a reset option during gameplay (hold C and press Start), appends the name Hertz Corp. to the end credits, and adds Stage, Mode and Control options to the Options menu. With Stage you can select any individual route to practice on (you'll still start in the opening tunnel sequence though) or view the ending immediately, with Mode you can toggle most collision detection on or off, infinite time on or off and an alternate horizontal screen resolution (see TCRF for specific values) and with Control you can enable a debug HUD and disable the 'Retire?' option when paused (again, TCRF has specific values for that). Not a bad little set of options to mess about with.
Now, remember that mention of an unused title for the game, Junker's High?
Well, a prototype of the game with that title in place has indeed been preserved.
We'll keep it brief, but there's a handful of differences from the release product beyond the strange title. A couple of visual and audio changes are present, such as considerably more annoying engine and turning sound effects (these were toned way, way down for the final game), the Kilroi sign originally reading "UP YOURS" instead of "BYE BYE!!", and an unpolished staff roll. However, the biggest one, as extensively documented by The Cutting Room Floor, is that the game has SRAM support- your records and even replays can be saved to battery back-up! That helps explain why you enter your name at the start of a game, it was intended to save your records under the name you enter. You can probably hazard a guess as to why this feature was dropped from the final game- saving in cartridge games was always at a premium, so publishers usually reserved it for games that really needed it like RPGs (indeed, even in the 2000s this was an issue, as the developers of Pinball Challenge Deluxe on the GBA found out) and so, most likely, SIMS asked for the feature to be cut to save costs. What a shame. As mentioned earlier, some British magazine reviews talked as if the save feature was still in the game at the time, but that could just be an oversight. Still, it's good that this version is properly preserved, I just wish they'd kept that rad name for it. Oh well!
Will this website still be around to do the 'we're playing this game after the year it's set in' joke with Robotron: 2084?
Probably not, because the Robotrons will definitely take over in 2084. It can't be helped!