OutRun. If you’re of a certain age or gaming inclination, that single word will propel you to a place of Magical Sound Shower, gorgeous pixel art, and insanely fast against-the-clock racing, with loads of traffic all suspiciously moving in the same direction along a seemingly endless snaking strip of road.
Highway Runners desperately wants to be OutRun, which can only be a good thing.
From the off, this is a decidedly retro-infused racer. The graphics are pixelated. The music is cheesy, dancing dangerously between catchy and maddening. And the game plays fast and loose with physics, enabling you to dart all over the road like a drunk and angry fly driving a Ferrari.
There are, however, key differences that put extra distance between Highway Runners and the game that influenced it. Most noticeably, you don’t appear to have any brakes, someone’s done away with the clock, and a total buffoon has left trails of coins all over the road.
The first two upend how you play the game. OutRun was all about keeping your speed up to beat the clock, but you could at least slam your foot down to avoid disaster. Here, you have no option but to weave between a frankly ludicrous amount of traffic, knowing that three collisions will end your quest to the finish line.
At times, it feels like someone’s fused an endless runner to a timeless arcade racer. Either way, this is a tough game, unless you’re blessed with the reactions of a (decidedly less drunk and angry) fly.
The coins are perhaps a less successful change. Although they provide an additional target, most players will have their hands full with the road – especially by the time they hit the desert section, with its hills, sharp turns, and massive rocks unhelpfully left in the middle of the road.
But they’re essential for unlocking bits of the game. You can use coins for new game modes (less traffic; more bling; and so on), night and evening visuals, and two additional sets of stages. That last one unlocks the road splits OutRun was once famous for, enabling you to choose your route through the game.
Locking these stages behind 15,000 bucks of virtual coinage lessens the game, though, rather than enriching it. This isn’t a freemium game, but that aspect sure feels like one.
Still, bar that snag (and the game’s pixelation effect sometimes making spotting what’s in the distance a bit tricky), Highway Runners is a lot of fun. Rather than a straight remake, it rethinks an old favourite, resulting in a speedy, frenetic racer well-suited to quick mobile blasts.