Tuesday, May 5, 2009

AA looks at: Daytona USA 2 Power Edition

Today I paid a visit to an actual arcade here in Winter Haven. This place is known as "T & R's Funhouse" and is a part arcade part playplace where kids can play stuff like skeeball and the like for prizes. The arcade side of things was rather lacking but the best thing about it is it carries Daytona USA 2 Power Edition. Needless to say this was more than enough for me to plunk down for $25 worth of tokens(though $5 of it was free).

Sequel to what is considered to be the most successful arcade game of all time Daytona USA 2 has a lot to live up to. Those familiar with the original Daytona USA know that it is one of the deepest and most satisfying arcade racers out there despite having a measly three tracks(and to top it off the first one is essentially an oval).

D2 starts off with the course select, where you can choose one of the three new tracks. Like the original they're rated in terms of difficulty from easy to expert. The player can also choose to take on a special race where all three courses are put together to make a huge one lap race. After selecting a track the player can choose from four different cars. These are ranked by ease of use with more difficult cars potentially offering higher speeds and thus better times(provided you can handle them). Finally the player can choose from manual or automatic transmission, the latter being easier but the former offering better accleration, top speed, and handling(though it takes longer to master).

The easy track is pretty standard and is a good showcase for the greater intensity D2 brings to the table. The AI opponents in this game are more aggressive and all around more difficult to pass by than in the original. Mastering the drafting technique(where you ride behind cars to pick up speed to slingshot past them) is essentially to placing 1st. Obviously this is easier said than done but at least with the easy track one can learn the ropes before attempting more difficult tracks.

Advanced(4 laps) can be considered quite the showcase for Sega's powerful Model 3 step 2.1 hardware. Taking place in an amusement park it's quite amazing to drive past roller coasters, under a giant swing, and just engorge in a fantastic amount of eye-candy. This track is where D2 really starts to break away from the original. The tracks here seem to go by faster as there's less time spent on straightaways. This is also where I noticed a number of advances in the AI cars. When these guys aren't trying to outrun you or run you off the road they're managing to screw up on their own as well. It's not exactly a surprising sight to see a handful of cars crashing into each other and spinning out into the middle of the road...where you can smash into them and wreck yourself as well. This is another factor to keep in mind while racing since it's not just about learning the track it's also about keeping an eye out for anything that looks like it could be a problem.

Expert(2 laps) takes place through city streets and as expected this is a tough race. While the first Daytona USA put some of the hardest turns near the end of the lap D2 mixes things up quite a bit. There's a turn near the beginning that can be quite nasty and I've yet to make my way through it at a decent speed. The way this track is designed really shows off the "edgier" style of gameplay Sega's AM2 decided to go with. In fact I would go as far to say as it makes the original Expert track in Daytona USA 1 look quaint by comparison. I'm not saying it's better or anything, it just feels very different, more white knuckle instead of smooth-sailing(though the soundtrack helps as it ditches the funky & catchy tunes of B-Univ for 80s-era thrash rock).

As I mentioned earlier Sega seems to have went with a different style of gameplay for this sequel. From the track designs to the way AI opponents behave and react I think this sequel takes on a more reactive style, which is based less on track memorization and more on getting past everything around you. Knowing the track is certainly important but unless you're messing up horribly and rather often you'll more than likely see each race to its end. Getting past the rivals is another story entirely and even after 10 races in a row I still didn't see beyond 5th place. 

To really explain how deep Daytona USA's gameplay is one would have to play it really. While Outrun 2 is a fantastic racer and one of the best I've played powersliding feels like kiddie mode in comparison to Daytona. It takes more than simply tapping the brake and turning. Every major turn has to be taken with utmost precision so that nothing is lost. You can't brake too much or you'll lose too much speed, too much gas and you're hitting a wall, and if you're not controlling your streering you'll spin out or worse. For every turn you have to be at a certain mindset and the existence of AI cars can also complicate your turning even further. It's hard to explain really but I've put more time into the three tracks of the Daytona games than almost every Ridge Racer game put together(except 6, mainly due to its monsterous career mode). For such a limited number of tracks Sega made sure that they're all extremely replayable and provide plenty of depth for the gamers who aren't satisfied if they can't knock off a few seconds or even a few tenths of a second off of their total time. This isn't even considering players who use manual transmission, as they can use the gearshift to powerslide which opens up all kinds of possibilities. There's no one optimal way to turn in this game and mastering it requires that you can find a use for multiple ways of getting around as well as be able to possibly perform a different kind of turn depending on particular conditions(you're certainly not going to approach a turn the same way from the first lap to the second lap if on the second there's a wrecked car sitting in the middle of the road). Throw in a time limit and the fact that you're barreling from one hotspot to the next close to or over 200 MPH and you've got a pretty serious racing game.

And with Daytona USA 2? Now there's a greater emphasis on drafting(or as some would call it, "air-slinging") and it's a high risk move as you have to get behind cars and eventually get out from behind them as you pick up speed. This is risky in straightaways as rear-ending a car will cost you speed as the AI(or human) opponent gains it. Drafting on corners is possible as well but it's also incredibly dangerous. Again however if you want to see 1st place and/or a great time on the track this has to be considered. Your car is also not invincible. Hard turns will wear out your tires and thus you're handling, smacking into objects will damage your car and its speed potential, essentially giving you even less room for error. This was touched upon in the first Daytona but here it's a very important thing to account for(though it's easily solved by not screwing up...good luck with that one).

Have I already touched on the AI opponents? Well it bears repeating here because these guys are nasty. After a short time the clock isn't even a big deal(unless you're doing seriously awful) so finishing races will eventually become second nature. Winning though? Well that's hard to do when any contact with a rival (or drone if you prefer) will damage your car. Getting hit from behind? Sure it gives you a slight bump in speed but it's still damage and has to be avoided. If you want to avoid getting hit from behind you have to not slow down, which means turns are more dangerous. To add to this these drones are out for blood. Most are there just to serve as drafting fodder but a handful of them are there only to screw you up. Races typically last less than five minutes but you'll be cursing when a drone runs you off the road, cuts you off, bumps into you, and finds a way to put you into a wall. Sure by using an easy to remember code you can race without drones but in order to get the best possible times you'll have to do some drafting. As a bonus(?) some of the cars actually have unique personalities and will exhibit their own particular behaviors to make sure you have a bad day.

On top of all of this you can take on Grand Prix and Endurance modes which add a substantial number of laps to every race(giving it a closer feel to an actual 500 lap Daytona race). This is all well and good except one definitely has to keep track of their car's condition during these races and hit the pit-stop whenever necessary(the game constantly updates you on what's happening via speakers located near your ears in the driver's seat, this is an excellent spot of game design as no matter what you're doing you're kept fairly up to date on things like approaching rivals, the car's condition, and other noteworthy factors).

While Sega has made Daytona USA 2 easier to complete they made it quite a bit harder to master. They would go on to do the same thing for Outrun 2 Special Tours, by adding slipstreaming(essentially drafting or air-slinging under a different name) and lessening the penalty for smacking a wall it's easier to finish a race but your times and score will suffer if you run into things. Personally I think it's a fantastic direction for all games to head in. 

Anyway I'm definitely heading back to the arcade to put some more time into this beauty. It's a phenomenal update to a classic racer and I'm ashamed that it took me over ten years to sit down with this one. Definitely check this one out if you haven't already.

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