Title: Super Hang-On
Release Date: Arcade 1987 / Mega Drive 1991
Yes, it might seem a tad opportune to tie in a retro column with a recent re-release (its hallowed visage compromised to remove suspiciously familiar-sounding “brand” names and strangely, on an otherwise-deserted Wii Virtual Console), but the fact of the matter is Super Hang-On is nothing short of awesome, even more so today than into the crowded marketplace for racers there was in 1987, so it’s due a look-over, big-time.
The concept is of its time, straddle a functionally quick motorbike and hurl yourself forward at a tremendous rate, negotiating corners and a seemingly endless parade of other bikers equally as trenchant as your good self. Get to maximum speed and you can use a turbo boost to sling yourself around the track even quicker, assuming you’ve a way with leaning hard enough to nip around that short corner at 300mph.
The gameplay, as such, is bloody glorious, zooming along at an unprecedented speed for the era and packing enough machismo in the processing department in its Megadrive iteration to realise the thrill of superbike action in a manner none have succeeded in doing since.
The stages of tracks get gradually trickier and trickier, but the learning curve is never as frustrating as, say, OutRun or somesuch, allowing newbies to get on the road and simply enjoy the spectacle. That doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park, mind: expect trial and error for the first good while as the game employs the most bastard yet necessary tactic of all to maintain your attention, making you learn the locations of tricky corners by rote, and ensuring you avoid them. Which you don’t, on account of the tracks’ sheer length because you’ll have forgotten. It’s an old-school, tough-as-nails old bastard of a game, alright.
But that doesn’t detract from the best part of this game. For all the speed and beautiful sprite-scaling at such, this game is all about DAT FEEL. Nothing has come close to matching the tactile sensation of how tightly a bike handles at speed, no game has perfectly encapsulated the kneecap-sanding experience of turning tight into that corner and rushing out. In short, Super Hang-On perfected it’s art.
Gameplay modes are a mish-mash of the then-current and breathtakingly progressive. Arcade Mode is a good old race, offering four tracks, and, of course, the legendary MIDI-rock soundtrack to choose from. Your aim here is simply to beat the clock. No frills, just thrills, and the perfect way to throw yourself helmet-first into a crucial juncture in the history of racers. Original Mode is where the home versions of the game come into their own, foreshadowing simulation racing games by an appreciable distance. Get from point to point in time to stay in the game and hopefully earn enough attention and SEGA Bucks to soup up your two-wheeled compadre for the next challenge.
Mechanics and sponsors can be hired and judiciously done away with for better. The more money you make, the more you can spend jacking up your machine’s specs. Simplistic by today’s standards, but immensely realistic for the day, and a precursor to the tuning-and-licensing ballyhoo of Gran Turismo and its kin. As an added bonus, progress can be recorded, albeit not with an unreliable battery backup, but with an at-best cumbersome password system (28 digits? And I’m to enter these with a Megadrive joypad?). It was all terribly forward-thinking in its day.
Super Hang-On is the definitive motorbike racer. That is a very difficult conclusion to come to, but it’s true. Because for the handful of games that have even come close to its speed and handling perfection, with SEGA’s own Manx TT Superbike and maaaybe Moto Racer 2 springing to mind, there’s dozens of clueless cash-ins (Superbike 2000) and pitiful budget efforts (we’re looking at you, Sports Superbike 2… give me back my €13) that have floundered in its wake.And all for a frustrating lack of that balance and adrenaline-laced VELOCITY that a game farting along on 25-year-old tech managed with the greatest of ease. Perhaps developers know they simply can’t match its legacy and have ceased trying.
Perhaps these are simply different times and quality no longer necessarily sells games. Whatever the reason, it simply means that if you’re thirsting for some two-wheeler action, there is simply nothing finer in existence than Super Hang-On. And its ubiquity in secondhand bins, as part of compilations or on its own, really means there’s no excuse not to.
[Words, Mike McGrath-Bryan]
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!