23/03/2012

[Review] Daytona USA(XBLA)

Above: ZOMG A HEDGEHOG IS RELAXING WHILE VERTICAL
Some of my earliest video game memories revolve around a cranking old Atari ST200, a Mega Drive and in '96, the arrival of our first household PC as we today would recognise it(Windows, more than 4MB RAM, hard drive, etc). That Win 98 computer was lighting fast at the time, or at least we thought it was compared to the shitbox of an Atari. For the time it was a great little computer but struggled to play most games any more intense than Windows Pinball.

One of the games we had on it was Daytona USA. Here's a picture of how shit it looked on that old computer.



I am reliably informed that the game looked significantly better if you turned the graphics up to their true(and high) levels but this was the level of horrible nasty shit I had to deal with. We were lucky to get 5fps, it was that shit.
But the sheer amount of joy gained from this simple title of 3 tracks(with another 3 in mirror mode) outweighed the shite that were the graphics. So when my brother(Watson690) discovered there was a demo up for grabs on XBLA I knew I had to get it and see how it compared. This short demo almost immediately led me to purchase the game(I didn't want to stop playing the demo, but reasoned the sooner I coughed up the reasonable 800 points for the title, the sooner I could have the full version without limitations such as the lack of time available, etc) and get reacquainted with an old gaming friend. Feel free to watch the handy trailer just below to get a feel for the game. It's only a minute long so go ahead, we'll be right here waiting for ya.



We first played this game when I was about 10 or 11 and I'm now 29 - so for me this was an excellent chance to not only play an old favourite but see how well it's aged over the last... nearly 20 years I think? Wow, that seems like a hell of a long time. Gaming's come on so much in that time, and yet I still find myself drawn to the classics...

Getting off subject there, let's re-rail things. You fire up the game to be presented with the usual saving bullshit, expecting to get an options menu and a START in big capital letters. And on START you'd expect to find the three tracks(plus another three if you mirrored them) and then two cars(automatic and manual), each screen having a time limit to make your choice. Right?
Well let's not get that far ahead because we have... multiple options. Sega has seen fit to not just rerelease Daytona but add some extra toys too!
You get back the saving bollocks screen, and watch the slick intro - or skip, whatever. And immediately find yourself presented with a crisp, clear menu. START is now "Arcade" and immediately below that you'll find Extras, unlocked straight away. In there are four game modes, varying from lame(Karaoke and Time Trial) to insanely fun(Survival and Challenge) which will no doubt add much life to the game once you're done with the very short but sweet Arcade mode. Also new to the XBLA version of Daytona is online multiplayer, complete with leaderboards so you can boost your e-peen with your efforts.

Above: artwork from the original title. Sega have done well to keep in touch with their roots. Now patch Sonic '06 so it works please!


ENOUGH! I hear you cry. STOP BEING A DOUCHE AND GET TO THE GAME!
Okay, okay, so you start up the game and the music immediately suckers you in. This is a laid-back, relaxing racing game featuring stock cars(think NASCAR, my non-US readers) and it reflects in the happy, flowing beats that capture floaty vocals in a background manner. Which is what the music becomes once your right finger hits the right trigger and propels your vehicle onward in a gigantic ball of smoke as it wiggles off the line. Straight away the game feels incredibly slick and smooth, with no noticeable loss of FPS at any point throughout the course. Part of this can be attributed to the 360 being more than enough of a console to handle the game, and part to it being incredibly well coded to begin with.
The car you drive feels typically arcade-like... that is to say either masses of oversteer and understeer with very little of the neutral inbetween steering you need, the ability to lock your brakes and the ability to light those rears up. The understeer combined with the tendency of the rear to flick out under power makes for a very tricky game on the later tracks but once you crack it, it's very much a eureka moment. Think to how frustrated you'd get when playing Wipeout and thinking you'd had enough and suddenly it clicks. That's how it feels to get on top of Daytona's wonderful and weird handling.

The two cars handle near enough identically, the only differences being in the colour and the gearbox. Manual typically gives you a speed boost compared to automatic, but as usual it's tricky to figure out how to get the most out of it. But it can be a real boon on a course with lots of twists and turns(Expert, looking at you here) as you can drop gears at will and match your speed to the corner(the autobox doesn't drop your gears anywhere near as quick as you'd like, and more often than not keeps you bogged down in 4th when really you need to be in 3rd and accelerating out of the corner towards the next one). Part of the fun is in finding out where the limit lies.
And when you do cross the limit, it usually ends in understeering into a wall and having an almighty smash. But it's okay, because Sega added in a rewind feature. It's clunky to use(you need to pause first) in comparison to more modern racers but I feel that was mostly as Sega were trying to keep things as close to the original as possible.




Above: you'll be seeing this a hell of a lot on any course other than Beginner.



And keep it close to the original, they most certainly have - in fact I'd go so far as to say it's a perfect emulation with logical improvements and additions. The AI thankfully hasn't been touched, as your opponents race each other as hard as they race you and often spin out from hitting each other. They still go over grass at full speed however, and if you pit or crash the entire field WILL pass you no matter how quickly you recover. I see it as part of the charm, but others will say it's a horrible reminder of an era gone by where you had to have the perfect race. Thank fuck for the rewind feature eh.
In terms of other improvements, Sega has certainly worked hard at making the game as accessible as possible so even a complete novice to video gaming should be able to figure out how to venture from one game mode to the next. It's a very nice evolution of the original in that respect, which was already pretty handy when it came to just hitting START and racing.

However the game is the best part of 20 years old, if not older. Frankly, if this game came out today for 800 points(about £7 in the UK, or $15) it would be laughed out of the console market - and rightly so. As a modern game it's shockingly shit.
But as an update of an old classic, it's bang on. It's kept everything from the original and hasn't fucked with it, broken it or otherwise messed about with a winning formula. We have to bear in mind that the biggest limiting factors back in those days were hardware and storage devices, so while back then it was a staggeringly awesome achievement in gaming Sega has kept in mind that this game will never hit the dizzy heights of NFS, Forza, GT etc and developed it accordingly.

If you have a spare 800 points and want a harmless racer that'll last you a few days at a time but wouldn't mind picking up once every few months, get the demo and check it out. But if you're after a game with the latest graphics, realistic handling and full-on physics systems then this isn't for you.
If I had to grade it, I would give Daytona USA 7/10. It's good for what it is and I will certainly get a lot of enjoyment out of it, but it won't last and the nostalgia will wear off soon enough.

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