Looking back at OutRun I really started to appreciate all of the improvements that have been made to racing games in the last twenty years. We take our 3D polygons and textures for granted, but it wasn't that long ago that programmers had to be creative when designing a racer that would convey both speed and excitement. Games like Excitebike and RC Pro-Am achieved their goal by changing the camera angle, while Rad Racer made up for the limitations by giving players an unprecedented sense of speed and an insane amount of things to dodge.
Unfortunately OutRun for the Master System didn't learn from either Rad Racer, Excitebike, or RC Pro-Am. Although it's based on one of the most influential arcade racers of all time, OutRun fails to capture even a small percentage of what made that game so memorable. On the surface it looks like a scaled down version of OutRun, but what we get is so much worse than anybody could have imagined.
The first thing you'll notice is that the roads are very, very quiet. You can spend large chunks of time without actually seeing anybody else on the course ... not that you're actually racing against anybody. That's right, you're not really going for first place here, you're just in it to get to the checkpoint before time runs out. This is not the first game to employ this type of racing style, but in this version of the game it just seems unfair. In some cases if you crash even once you won't make it to the next section, which just seems unfair and more frustrating than it needs to be.
The graphics are simple and do their best to recreate the arcade experience, but due in large part to the Master System's lack of scaling the game ends up looking choppy. There are times where I thought going through a tunnel would send me into an epileptic seizure; thankfully I made it out of the game unharmed. To be fair, the original arcade OutRun had some scaling issues as well, but coupled with bad controls and an unforgiving difficulty this Master System version stands out as being especially mediocre.
Like most of the early generation 8-bit titles, OutRun suffers from a lack of extra modes. You can choose what music you want to listen to (none of which is recommended), but you're pretty much in store for the same type of experience every single time. You can branch off into different paths as you play the game, but this doesn't really add as much replay as you might imagine.
At the end of the day it's hard to look past OutRun's bad graphics, broken game play, and disappointing sense of speed. This just isn't a quality port of an otherwise good arcade game. There were moments when I played it that I could see brief glimpses of the greatness that I remembered in the arcade, but those were too few and far between. Just look elsewhere when choosing an 8-bit arcade racer.