Thursday, September 1, 2016

AA / XBLA Look - Daytona USA

Sometimes I don’t even know why I bother sitting down to write a review of an older game. There are times when my opinion changes on the game but if that circumstance never comes about it seems all too pointless. For nearly twenty years I’ve considered Daytona USA to be one of the finest arcade-racing games out there, and that includes today, tomorrow, and possibly up until I’m fitted into a coffin and buried. So for me to sit down and attempt to write something even remotely interesting would be a waste of time. Also I’m sure all of you out there who are also big fans of Daytona USA expect to see a high rating, that’s just the nature of the videogame-“critiquing” beast.

So let’s start by trying to put together how I’ve gotten myself into this mess, I was raised by arcades. While I didn’t sit around studying these games with a notepad and a chemistry set, I still spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about them and what makes them work so well. What makes a great arcade game is simple. The game should be easy to pick up, hard to master, and offer enough challenge to get you to keep putting tokens in, but also balanced enough so that you’re not just paying to see an ending. Arcade games should also have a certain style that is approachable and entertaining. Other genres are allowed the liberty of having long drawn-out intros or huge stretches of time where absolutely nothing happens, that’s a huge no-no for an arcade game. These philosophies are what I grew up with and I’ve applied them to everything, even the games that shouldn’t be considered arcade.

As a writer I originally planned to focus solely on arcade games. There are a lot of things I never really had the chance to write about, a number of ideas that I didn’t think were fully fledged out. Keeping in tune with this review I’ve always thought that a lot of the art behind a good arcade racing game was lost over the past few years. I’m not just talking about presentation but also the focus. Nowadays there are some people, who consider something an arcade-racer because it has a lot of explosions, and crashes. To me it’s not really about that. All of the style is in avoiding the crashes and being one with the machine to the point that all turns are handled with absolute precision. It’s the eternal quest to find that perfect run, which is something far too many videogames are taking for granted. It has all become rather binary as control is continually taken from the player in exchange for positive feedback. A good arcade-racer has to continue being challenging, without relying on cheap methods such as “rubber-band AI” or failing the player because they didn’t hit enough magic pixies while power-sliding.

Daytona USA is a clinic when it comes to exemplary arcade-racing. It’s the standard-bearer because it does most everything right. An entire generation may look at this game, scratch their collective heads, and wonder why this was ever a huge deal in the first place. There’s really not a whole lot I can say to that, and it’s not even worth the time for me to shake my head in disbelief and shame. It is a game where the entirety of its content can be thumbed through in less than ten minutes and there are no experience bars to fill, no garages full of additional cars to collect, and barely any unlockables. In fact one of the additions to this port is a rewind mode so you can go back to your last mistake and correct it. It’s like Sega is giving this game away, but for a price.

So I, who has close to two decade worth of history tied to this game, and for all intents and purposes is beyond clouded by nostalgia, am now tasked with recommending this game. That “A” rating is certainly not enough. The only way I know how to recommend this game is that you must play it. You have to go into Daytona USA knowing all of its rules and intricacies, which should only take you seconds to figure out. Winning races all depends on how you handle its turns, whether you can take advantage of slip-streaming to pass rivals, and how you deal with bad situations like multi-car pileups. This is a game you will pick up on in no time and it will be endlessly rewarding and satisfying.

As far as ports are concerned this edition is undoubtedly as good as it is going to get. The frame-rate is perfect, the controls are excellent. Even the online-play is very solid, although it definitely helps to stick with players who have decent connections. The Karaoke mode is an amusing diversion but the Survival and Challenge modes deserve special mention. The Challenge mode is basically a guide to getting down some of the more complicated aspects of Daytona USA. This can include details such as the shortcut on the beginner’s track, how to perform a rocket-start, and keeping a high speed during the most difficult turns. Learning all of this will help you when it comes time to shoot for the leaderboards and staying competitive in multiplayer. Survival has you trying to go for as long as possible while the handling of your car rapidly deteriorates. You have to make the right call on making those pit-stops as well as learning all of the ways in which you can add bonus time (which can even include things such as hitting cones and signs).

All of these modes take place over the same three tracks and your choice in car never moves beyond Automatic or Manual but the game still changes as your skill-level rises. You will start finding yourself in more delicate situations, and putting yourself at greater risks just for incremental gains. I believe if you can make it to this point then you understand perfectly why this game is so great. Daytona USA does so much with so little and part of the reason why it has held up for so long is due to its quality as just being a well-rounded and fantastic-playing game. We’ve been long overdue for a port that can match such a standard and I’m more than glad that it’s finally here. Sega’s AM Port team has done an incredible job here and I’m confident that their next project will turn out as flawless as this one. Unfortunately this is one of the last games I’d ever be able to approach without biasness. I’m really not sure if this can even make for a worthwhile review but here we are.

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