It took 18 years, but it’s finally here, an absolute perfect port of the arcade hit. Which according to some estimations, might be the most popular and successful arcade of all time. Yes, more so than Pac-Man or Street Fighter 2, believe it or not. Personally, I blew… no joke… roughly $400 on the arcade version alone as a kid. And I’ve gone through all the ports, for the Saturn, PC, and Dreamcast, and play them all to death. Despite the fact that each one was lacking in one way or another; they still embodied the essence that was Daytona, and was good enough in their own ways. But now, the wait is over; the entirety of the arcade experience has finally come home.
Not sure how one explains a game that’s as ubiquitous as Daytona. You control a stock racing car and try to master three different tracks. That’s it. Actually, not really, but that’s how many would make you believe. Plenty of today’s reviewers have tried to compare Daytona USA to today’s virtual racers. Yes, there’s only one car, which seems pretty paltry when compared to Gran Turismo’s 500. But the thing is, it’s the only car you really need, seriously! Another major complaint is the number of tracks. Because three make believe courses are nothing when compared to GT’s 30, many of which are based upon real life locations. Whatever.
Do the math: if you had to create 30 tracks, how much time and energy and care would you be able to dedicate to each one’s creation? Probably not. And if something’s based upon real life, that means even less to do, really. Daytona USA really does illustrate a different time in which every little thing mattered; the amount of detail and consideration is unistakable. Every single turn was carefully decided upon, and the end result is a game that just feels like nothing else. Many arcade racers have followed the original Daytona, and none have come close to the sheer brilliance and undeniable fun factor. Not a single one, not even Daytona 2.
Sure it looks and sounds like a game from 1993, but what’s wrong with that? It’s still bold and beautiful, especially the later; there’s a reason why Daytona (along with the original Sonic) helped to establish an association between blue skies, along with the good feelings that one gets from them, and Sega as a whole. Again, thanks to today’s hardware finally being able to handle the stress, it has truly never looked better in your living room. Every visual asset is super rich and vibrant; thankfully our ultra fancy displays are finally up to the task of emulating arcade CRTs that are two decades old. Unlike past versions, no sacrifices have been made, from roadside details to the rock solid 60 frames per second frame rate. It’s all there.
Audio-wise, the iconic soundtrack is back again, and still a crowd-pleaser. If I have one complaint, and it’s a minor one, is how the remixed songs aren’t quite as compelling as the one in the Saturn version, which was the best thing about that iteration. I also would have loved the Dreamcast’s version as well, which was almost as tight. Still, the alternate soundtrack is not at all horrible, and also includes the option to mute the vocals, so one can play in karaoke mode, meaning you can sing while you drive! There’s also an auto drive option.
Other activities include a series of challenges, like clearing a section of track without hitting the wall, or being the clock with just manual transmission, stuff like that. It would have also been nice to have more than the 30 or so that’s offered, but in the end, it’s totally fine. The only thing diehard Daytona fans have every wanted was an accurate port of the arcade experience, and they got it, so no complaints. Anything else is a bonus (and certainly appreciated). By the way, aside from looking like one would hope, the handling is also on spot, and precisely how it was in the arcade; both the 360 pad and Dual Shock 3 offer just the right amount of finesse required (basically, one can finally forget the nightmarish feel of the DV version). The AI from the arcade has also been duplicated flawlessly; people who complain that games of today are too easy need to, again, refer to the classics, which took no prisoners.
The main mode is just as you’d want it to be: there are the basic three tracks in their normal form, along with the option to play them mirrored. One can either compete against the aforementioned AI, or by yourself, in time attack mode, to then post your score online. There’s multiplayer online, naturally, where one can finally get into heated matches against human opponents, without the need to have $30 worth of credits on your Dave & Buster’s card. Unfortunately, online isn’t as rock solid as I had hoped on either systems, but the overall fun one will have makes up for any erratic behavior of your opponent’s vehicle. When you lose, even due to connection issues, it’s all in good fun, unlike other multiplayer pursuits. It certainly helps that each game is super fast, in the blink of any eye, and not some huge commitments.
Both versions are pretty much identical, though I had a harder time finding folks to race against on Sony’s machine, as opposed to Microsoft. But given how robust Xbox Live is, that’s hardly a shocker. Visually, both are mirror images (though if you have an old school CRT monitor, the PS3 version’s difficulty with aliasing rears its head, but it’s nothing horrible). If anything, there are slight improvements, again thanks to today’s technology, specifically how much more ram today’s consoles have over the arcade hardware. The draw distance is further, meaning more of the track is rendered, further down the road. This is mostly illustrated in the beginner’s course, in which the scenery doesn’t “pop up” out nowhere like before; everything is still there (though I do recall the tall buildings in the advanced coarse, as you cross the bridge in the beginning part of the lap, being present sooner in the Dreamcast version, but that could be my imagination).
I fully realize that not nearly enough people will be as excited about Daytona’s triumphant rebirth on the Xbox 360 and PS3 as myself, but I also some out there have, as stated like 13 times already, waiting for this day to come. And it is good. DAMN good.