Unlike the other 3D Classic remake Sega published last week for 3DS (3D Space Harrier), Super Hang-On doesn't really hold a place in the upper ranks of classic video game canon. Where Space Harrier always shows up in lists of must-play Sega classics, Super Hang-On is practically forgotten.
It's not hard to understand why; with its chunky, scaling sprites, Space Harrier was like nothing anyone had ever played before (well, besides After Burner). Super Hang-On, by comparison, was pretty much just a Pole Position clone with motorcyles. Sega traveled well-trod territory with this one, offering a modest graphical embellishment to the formula done first by Irem's Mach Rider and more thrillingly with their own Outrun.
No, the real appeal of Super Hang-On came from the limited edition version's arcade cabinet, which took the form of a motorcycle-shaped seat that tilted as you raced, just like a real bike. Pitching left and right as you leaned into a turn helped a fairly straightforward racing game transcend its mundanity to become a thrilling physical experience. Even the more standard upright version of the game managed to offer a superior thrill with its handlebar controllers. Unfortunately, the sheer physicality of Super Hang-On's arcade incarnation simply didn't translate into a compelling console game, forever dooming a giddy coin-op title to a future reputation as a second-tier home version.
Until M2 came along, that is. Somehow, the studio that has evolved into Sega's personal archival team managed to come about as close to recreating the complete arcade Super Hang-On experience on a standard console. And not just any console! A handheld, of all things.
It sounds contradictory, but the portability of of the 3DS platform is precisely what makes it so perfectly suited to emulating (or at least, imitating) the physicality of the Super Hang-On cabinet. By combining gryoscopic sensors with a tilt-capable inset screen design, M2's 3DS rendition of this old coin-op manages to convey the head-tilting, body-shifting insanity of the "true" version of Super Hang-On. Unlike previous console ports, which simply reproduced the game graphics, the 3D Classics version attempts to recreate the essential feel of playing Super Hang-On.
You can tweak the game's presentations to a number of different formats -- an M2 tradition -- and among those many permutations is the ability to enable gyroscopic controls and scale the screen graphics down to a windowed view that places the action within a frame designed to resemble the arcade cabinet. When you corner, the frame actually tilts along with the inset graphics, imitating the way your body leans to control the bike on the special edition arcade cabinet. You can elect to deactivate gryoscopic controls, but turning them on creates a truly unique 3DS sensation. Suddenly, you feel like you're playing the arcade game, not a feeble reproduction of it.
While the fundamental gameplay of Super Hang-On remains unchanged, as you scream down the road trying to hit checkpoints to extend play time before the clock runs down, the essence of this loving 3DS recreation transforms it from mediocre racer into gripping, visceral arcade action. Add in a bevy of other options, from the basic (difficulty selections) to the nuanced (racer data recording) and what you have is perhaps the finest-ever example of how to dredge up a forgotten game from the dustbin of history and make it into a showcase in interface design... and a heck of a lot of fun, to boot.
I never particularly cared for the Hang-On series, having been largely familiar with the unimpressive console versions, but 3D Super Hang-On is more than a mere port. It's a piece of loving craftsmanship, an attempt to translate the ephemeral qualities of a bygone arcade racer into a must-play title. Even if you don't enjoy the game itself, everything that surrounds it demonstrates the importance of imagination and passion in video game preservation and design. You wouldn't think your 3DS could emulate a fancy sit-down arcade cabinet effectively, but you'd be wrong.