Time Extended! Top Notch Repackaging of an Arcade Classic.
Few companies have been as active in mining their back catalog as Sega, but unfortunately, the quality of their re-releases have been a bit of a mixed bag. Recent years have seen a variety of both some solid collections (Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection) and some overpriced bare-bones packages (Virtual Console).
Luckily, the latest ward of these classic games seems to be up to the task of doing right by Sega's arcade legacy. Developer M2 has largely specialized in emulation and re-releases as evidenced by their prior work on Sega Ages and collections for Namco and Konami, and their experience definitely shows in the first batch of Sega 3D Classics on the 3DS eShop.
3D Super Hang-On shows a level of care that rivals even Nintendo's own 3D Classics releases, providing solid emulation of the original while refreshing it with some smart additions and updates. If you have any doubt about how much M2 cares about the minutiae, just check out the recent interview they did for the Sega's blog. It's pretty evident that they know and love these games and really want to do right by them.
Let's start by getting one simple fact out in the open: Super Hang-On is one of my favorite racing games ever. I sunk a ton of time into the Genesis version (a decent port but decidedly a step down from the arcade), and I would seek out the cabinet every time I had a chance. Even to this day, I think that few racing games match it in terms of their sense of speed and the refinement and balancing of their gameplay.
For those uninitiated with the Hang-On franchise, the series from legendary designer Yu Suzuki focuses on high-speed motorcycle checkpoint races depicted in high framerate pseudo-3D courtesy of Sega's 16-bit "Super Scaler" graphics technology. Super Hang-On, the second and most popular entry in the series, originally hit arcades in 1987 and was later ported to a wide array of home platforms including the Genesis.
Super Hang-On features the same basic gameplay as its predecessor, a fast paced race against the clock through a linear progression of checkpoints where the focus is on maintaining top speed while avoiding fellow racers and maintaining enough control to stay on the track and avoid very costly wrecks, but it also expands on the original in several ways. No longer restricted to a single track, players choose from one of four globe spanning tracks of increasing length and difficulty. A new turbo button rewards players for maintaining top speed by allowing access to some extra power in the virtual engine block for as long as the bike's speedometer is pegged at 280 km/h (yeah, this game measures speed in kilometers). Super Hang-On also borrows a bit from OutRun, Yu Suzuki's other smash-hit racing game of the time, by adding rolling hills to Hang-On's previously flat pavement and allowing the player an option of four music tracks - all of which are great, especially the incredibly well named (or possibly just poorly translated) Outride a Crisis.
3D Super Hang-On omits the "Original Mode" that was added to the home ports of the game, but it's honestly not much of a loss. That rudimentary career mode always paled in comparison to the instant satisfaction of "Arcade Mode" - the early races prior to upgrading your bike were incredibly slow and it was a total pain to keep track of the 28 character passwords.
Much like the 3D Classic titles from Nintendo, the most obvious update to 3D Super Hang-On is evident in the title. Super Hang-On and other "Super Scalar" games always tried to simulate 3D, so the addition of true stereoscopic 3D is pretty logical and looks pretty good. The original arcade graphics and scaling effects hold up surprisingly well on their own, but the added 3D effect is a nice little addition that gives you a chance to see those graphics in a new way. I did find that things in the distance occasionally seemed to blur in a weird way, possibly a side effect of combining the pseudo-3D and stereoscopic 3D, but it wasn't a major issue for me. In the end, even my minor issues with the 3D don't matter much. Like with most 3DS games, I found the 3D to be primarily just a novelty and ended up playing mostly in 2D, but the point remains, crashing and seeing your rider fly off of the bike in 3D does look pretty cool.
Most importantly though, is that the visual performance of this game is rock-solid. Unlike many of the older home ports that struggled to maintain the frame-rate and sense of speed of the arcade, this game looks blazingly fast, and it never chokes. The fast paced nature of this game has always been one of its strongest points, so it's great to see it represented so well without any issues.
Sticking with the visuals, the game offers four different screen modes: two standard 4:3 modes (one slightly more zoomed in than the other) that have a neat bezel around them that makes them look like they're in the original arcade cabinet, a horrible stretched widescreen mode (who would use this?), and a widescreen view that expands the field of view without stretching any sprites (this would be the go to mode to use if not for a gradient on the sides of the screen that's a bit ugly and present for seemingly no reason). The game also offers a somewhat odd "Moving Cabinet" option that simulates using the ride-on arcade cabinet by tilting the screen as you steer. While it is an inventive and novel idea, I found it to mostly just be disorienting.
If you opt to use the new gyro sensor tilt control option, the screen tilt effect does make a bit more sense, but I primarily stuck with just using the thumb pad, which even in its own right is a big improvement over older ports that had to be played with strictly digital directional inputs. Being able to dial in a more precise amount of steering works a lot better than having to feather the d-pad on the Genesis. There's also touch screen steering, but that's really only an option if you're left handed and even then is probably not ideal. You can customize the accelerate, brake, and turbo buttons, but I found the default setup to work just fine unless you want to punish yourself and take turbo off of R and put it on a face button to recapture the awkwardness of putting your thumb across two buttons on the Genesis controller.
With respect to the audio setup, there's a full sound test mode that's great for taking in the excellent music without having to deal with the tension of a race, and if you're wont to fiddle with audio details, there's actually a full equilizer that you can mess with including five presets. I didn't notice a ton of different when fiddling with the sliders, but I only listened to it through the speakers. It's possible that plugging in a decent set of headphones would make the changes more evident. At the very least though, I never noticed any of the audio oddities or distortions that can often mar that is often an artifact of emulation.
As far as gameplay tweaks go, there are far more options than I've come to expect from these sorts of repackaged releases. The original arcade game had four difficulty options, but this game includes the two additional lower tier difficulties that were added in the Sega Ages version, the lowest of which completely disables the hit box on other riders making the game far easier. The checkpoint time limit can also be changed to increase or decrease the difficulty. If your goal is just to see every stage of a track, there's even an option to start at any completed odd-numbered stage in a race (only odd-numbered because some of the even-numbered stage checkpoints are in the middle of a turn). Like most arcade games, Super Hang-On was designed to challenge you and take your money, so for newcomers and those looking for a more releaxed experience, it's nice that these options were included.
The game increases replayability and variety by including the option to select from both the ride-on and sit-down cabinets which had different track layouts. There's also a special "World Course" track that can be unlocked by completing the four standard races that puts all four tracks together end-to-end. It's a roughly 30 minute trek, but luckily, the game does allow you to save your state and resume later if you can't finish it all in one sitting (however, for standard races, the save state option is largely meaningless as none of the races are so long that you'd ever reasonably need it).
One of the biggest bummers about the original Genesis version of the game was that it didn't save your high scores, but luckily, not only does 3D Super Hang-On save your top scores, it also will save your time from each individual stage of a track. The game also features a video replay system, but it's extremely hamstrung by the fact that you can only save one replay. It also would've been great to have some online leaderboards and the ability to share replays, but considering that this is a Nintendo platform, that's probably asking a bit too much.
As I said at the top, Super Hang-On is one of my favorite racing games of all time, and this excellent re-release has done nothing to dissuade me of that opinion or sully the legacy of this Yu Suzuki classic. In fact, this is quite possibly the most definitive version of Super Hang-On that's ever been released. The lack of online functionality and the occasional odd design decision like only having one replay slot are a bit of a bummer. However, in terms of just delivering a great arcade quality port, it's hard to find any fault in M2's efforts, and most of their additions either improve the experience or at worst can be safely and simply ignored.
I can't really recommend this game to everyone. I know that some people won't be able to get into this style of gameplay or will find the core experience to be too shallow, but for those old school fans and open minded newcomers looking for fast-paced arcade action, it doesn't get much better than this.