Now, bring me that horizon.
In the dim, distant past, before 3D rendering became a mainstream technology, video games used something called sprite-scaling to indicate depth. It’s the classic “these cows are small/these cows are far away” technique, of growing 2D sprites as they approach the player’s perspective to make them seem closer, and shrinking them as they retreat.
Used in everything from flight simulators (After Burner, Thunder Blade) to the earliest first-person shooters (Wolfenstein 3D, Doom), sprite-scaling was a technique developed by Sega on its mid-eighties Super Scaler arcade boards. Early games like Space Harrier and Hang-On brought a whole new experience of depth and speed to video games.
It was Out Run, though, that really captured players’ hearts. With its bright red drop-top Ferrari Testarossa, blistering speed, and gameplay based on The Cannonball Run, how could it not?
Horizon Chase Turbo, from Aquiris Game Studio, would dearly like to tap into this Out Run nostalgia and, for the most part, it succeeds.
Gone are the two-dimensional sprites; replaced instead with three-dimensional assets. Horizon Chase Turbo’s graphics are rendered in a crisp, faceted, low-poly style. This communicates a retro sensibility, without going whole-hog for the vintage, sprite-scaled technology that powered Sega’s arcade classics.
In short, it means those trees and rocks and road signs are actually whipping towards you in three dimensions. Because of the game’s snappy design – including the classic, horizontally-striped ground textures of Out Run and Hang-On – you get the feel and impression of those retro mechanics, with none of the jolts and quirks associated with sprite-scaling. It’s a neat trick, blending the old into the new, and one that feels like a comfy pair of slippers to an old Sega aficionado.
Following a similar theme, while Horizon Chase Turbo’s upbeat, electro soundtrack (from composer Barry Leitch) is thumping, I’d wager it’s been produced with modern synths rather than the authentic, chiptune sound of its forebears.
Again, that’s not a complaint. Everything here is an excellent, sympathetic modernisation. But it’s in the game’s modern sensibilities that Horizon Chase Turbo really starts to diverge down a different road to Out Run.
For one thing, Horizon Chase Turbo is split into races. With laps and everything! Gone is the endless drift into the skyline from Out Run, mimicking The Cannonball Run’s madcap dash from Connecticut to California. In its place are short, rhythmic races, around ovals, tracks and circuits.
These races are then split by location, making up the game’s career mode of sorts; a world tour. Win enough races in one locale, and you’ll get to move on to the next. It’s fairly standard fare, but it’s here where Horizon Chase Turbo’s origins – as a mobile game, originally known as Horizon Chase – World Tour but repackaged as ‘Turbo’ for the PS4, PC, Xbox One and Switch release – start to show through.
It’s not simply enough to finish in the top three for each race, even though that is enough to unlock the next race within each locale. You need to score enough points – a combination of finishing position, items collected, and fuel remaining at the end of each race – to unlock the next set of races. It’s reminiscent of the one-to-three star scoring system in so many mobile puzzle games, and will regularly see players going back to retry earlier races to get enough chits to unlock more cars and move forward to new stages.
And all I wanted to do was keep driving into the horizon, through the traffic and the shifting landscapes, for as long as I could keep up.
But there was the promise of an additional game mode, temptingly named ‘Endurance’, that made me think my Out Run dreams may still yet come true. Sadly, it was not to be. Endurance mode simply challenges you with entering race after race, and if at any point you finish outside the top three? Your challenge is over.
There’s plenty to like about Horizon Chase Turbo, and given its short courses and mobile origins, it’s a great bitesize game to play in small chunks in the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode. It’s just a shame that a lot of what is in there feels repetitive; especially when the game asks you to go back and retread it.