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Sounds of Sega: Turbo OutRun (Arcade)

Sega’s consoles are chock-full of classics with amazing soundtracks. We all know and love the music to games like Fantasy Zone, Thunder Force III, and Panzer Dragoon, and rightly so. Those titles have some amazing themes that will forever stand out in our minds as Sega fans. Some soundtracks are practically synonymous with the games themselves and are often among the first things fans mention when those titles are discussed. That being said, we tend to mostly consider consoles when talking about Sega’s long history of quality music. The truth is that there are some choice arcade collections that truly deserve more attention that what they typically get. Even when the subject comes up, I think most people tend to gravitate towards classics like OutRun and After Burner when they mention Sega coin-ops with outstanding music. There are many more titles with some great scores, and I would like to shine some light on a game with an really great score: 1989’s Turbo OutRun.

I know that feelings on OutRun’s arcade sequel are mixed. Some people enjoy the changes Sega made to the formula to give Turbo OutRun its own feel, while others consider them unnecessary tinkering with something that was already quite solid. Honestly, we could debate that point all day – it’s a discussion that does indeed have merit – but the music is our topic here, and that’s one area of the game where I take a definite stance!

Turbo Outrun’s music was composed by the powerful tandem of Sega musical guru Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Yasuhiro Takagi, the same duo that went on to score Sword of Vermilion a few years later. Kawaguchi was the man behind the audio to many of Sega’s arcade hits, including Hang-On, Space Harrier, and the first OutRun’s timeless soundtrack. That game’s score perfectly conveyed designer Yu Suzuki’s intent to make a arcade machine that focused on the adventure of driving, rather than the thrill of racing. Its combination of diverse themes pulled in players, and all that was missing was a pair of sunglasses and the breeze in one’s hair to complete the experience.

Kawaguchi and Takagi changed gears for the sequel, likely owed to the different design of Turbo OutRun. Whereas the first game had players choose their route across the country, Turbo OutRun was a linear path across 16 stages from New York to Los Angeles. The iconic Ferrari was still the car of choice (this time it was an F40 instead of a Testarossa), but there was also a Porsche-driving rival with which players now had to contend. Moreover, police cars frequently tried to catch players for their obvious defiance of the speed limit. The change in game design no doubt influenced Kawaguchi and Takagi’s compositions, and the four themes they wrote were a lot faster and furious than before. Unlike its predecessor, Turbo OutRun was a racing game, and its music reflected as much.

The Songs

Note: The Japanese and North American arcade versions used the same track order, so this is the format we will be using for this article.

In a major change from OutRun, the sequel didn’t let players select their music. During the first four stages, players raced to the song “Rush a Difficulty.” The piece is still my personal favorite of the bunch, with its infectious, tropical-style melody and brilliant percussion. The song was fast-paced and never let up, blazing its way across each of the stages. There was very little looping over its three-and-a-half minute length, making it surprisingly varied for a coin-op theme. It’s still a joy to listen to.

The next four cities had “Keep Your Heart” as their background theme. While not as boisterous as the previous tune, it was fast enough to keep up with the onscreen action. Its catchy melody continued the rapid, rhythmic style of “Rush a Difficulty” and was lively enough to be one you’d find yourself humming. Still, it was different enough to compliment that song by offering a different style that didn’t slow things down.

“Shake the Street” set the musical scene for stages nine-12. I consider it the tamest of the collection, since it tended to repeat the melody more. Nonetheless, it did a great job of keeping up with the action. Today, this repetition might make it seem like the piece goes on longer than it should have, but framed against these four stages of racing, I think it was timed just right. Kawaguchi had a knack for making his themes take no longer than needed, and he was on target here.

The final song, “Who Are You?,” returned to the percussion-laden style of “Rush a Difficulty,” but it had a strong and distinctive melody that made more than a few arcade gamers wish they could hear Turbo OutRun’s sound test. It was also the longest song of the bunch, clocking in at just under five minutes in length.

Sega added checkpoint pit stops to Turbo OutRun after every four stages so that players could upgrade their cars by purchasing better tires and a faster engine. Some players argue that they disrupted the flow of the game, a contention I can understand, but they did give us a chance to enjoy a bit more of the soundtrack with the short piece “A Huge Pile of Parts.” The ending theme, “Checker Flag,” wasn’t perhaps as memorable as OutRun’s “Last Wavebut its perky beat gave it a charm all its own. These quick pieces were only meant to fill in the gaps and weren’t as elaborate as the main track selections, but they are still distinctively OutRun in their execution.

Not Just A Passing Breeze

Turbo OutRun was released in 1989 as a conversion kit to the original game. Essentially, it used the same cabinet and board. All operators had to do was change the marquee, cabinet art, and control panel. It showed how powerful the hardware was graphically, but its soundtrack is a testament to the arcade board’s musical prowess. Even 30 years on, Kawaguchi and Yakagi’s work is still as bright and memorable as ever. It’s a shame that more people don’t consider Turbo OutRun’s music to be on par with other Sega classics. Sega included a remixed version of “Rush a Difficulty” in the soundtrack to OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, but that’s about as far as the spotlight has shone thus far.

Anyone who enjoys Sega music should take some time to appreciate Turbo OutRun’s four quality tracks. They took a different direction (or route, if you will) than famous tracks written for Yu Suzuki’s 1985 arcade classic, but they stand strongly on their own. I still listen to them regularly on my playlist of Sega arcade songs, and while I know they’ll likely never get the recognition of Kawaguchi milestones like Magical Sound Shower, Passing Breeze, and Spash Wave; they hold a special place in history for me.

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