The Sega Master System was the first video game console I ever owned. I remember opening it Christmas morning 1987 with the kind of excitement only a child under the age of 10 obtains. My parents were smart, making sure I opened this gift last, because before the wrapping paper even hit the ground, I was already pestering my Dad to go set it up on the TV.
The Master System Console in those days came with the three free games. There was the hidden Snail Maze game that require no cartridge to play. Just simply turn the Sega on, enter a secret sequence with the controller, and play. The other two games came on a single cartridge and loaded up depending on which controller was plugged into the master system. If the gun was inserted then Safari Hunt, a game dedicated to shooting animals of all shapes and sizes, loaded. If the regular D-Pad was plugged in than the legendary Hang-On booted up.
Another Ported Arcade Smash
As was the case with many video games during the 1980s, Hang-On began life as an arcade game, released in 1985. The goal of the game was for the player to drive a motorcycle along a scrolling roadway, trying to gain as many points as possible before time ran out. A series of checkpoints were passed along the way increasing the player’s time.
The game was unique in many ways, notably for its deluxe cabinet that featured a video screen attached to replica motorcycle. The gameplay immersion was very realistic for the mid-80s as players would straddle the cabinet, accelerate with a throttle grip, brake with a hand lever, and even lean side to side to steer the motorcycle.
It wasn’t just the controls that felt lifelike, the game itself was quite realistic. I know, looking back on it now its hard to believe anyone would consider Hang-On an authentic representation of motorcycle racing. But remember the context; in 1985 racing games were either graphically challenged, incredibly choppy, or both. Hang-On succeeding in achieving smooth, graphically rich gameplay thanks in large part to its 16-bit Super Scaler internal bits.
No Bike, But Still Fun
The game arrived on the Sega Master System in 1986, and as mentioned previously, became one of the free games included with purchase. Since I had no other games when I was gifted my Sega, I spent a lot of time playing Hang-On. I mean, a lot, especially considering its rather simple, repetitive gameplay.
But I was a kid, and despite the expected decrease in game quality with the Master System being only an 8-bit processor, it still blew me away. I wasn’t exactly a video game aficionado at that time, so compared to my limited experience with early games on the Commodore, Intellivision and Texas Instruments, this was next level.
The gameplay was incredibly smooth and reacted quickly to control inputs. The graphics were very good and the changing backgrounds at the end of each checkpoint kept things feeling fresh and interesting. Even the sound was great. There was ambient wind noise when riding, and the vroom sounds whenever passing an opponent really sounded like a sport bike driving by. And I’d be remiss not to mention the the hype-building theme song.
But like most games of that era, the initial obsession soon wears off as players either beats the game, or in my case, hits their wall of progression. Hang-On quickly became a dust collector in my Sega collection once I started adding new games, but I’ll never forget it for being my inoculation into the world of Sega.