Ah, nostalgia. The bane of any game reviewer. It’s difficult to go back to games like this without them being…colored, in some form, by those memories of the past. I recall the days of my youth, spent in a low-quality skating rink with an arcade in the back, cacophonous with the din of “DAYYYTOOOONAAAAAA”.
And, thanks to these memories, I was very excited when Sega announced a re-release of the game for XBLA and PSN a few weeks ago. Do these memories still hold up, or is the game still in the pits? Let’s just say that it’s a subjective matter.
Daytona USA is a bit of a landmark game. It ran on Sega’s Mark 2 arcade hardware, which allowed for some of the first fully-textured 3D games to hit arcades before the N64 and PS1 came along. Daytona USA is one of those early games, possibly the first game to have full texture-mapping (I’m not completely sure on that one).
The game’s age shows in the port, to say the least. The textures have had their resolution increased (not by much), the HUD is in high definition (though you can still tell that it’s from that era of games), and the menus are conspicuously new, but it still looks very rough: jagged edges are everywhere, most of the textures are muddled, and the animation is rather limited.
It’s quite loyal to the original arcade game, but, without the context of the game’s landmark status or memories for that time period, it’s difficult to justify the lack of visual updating.
The gameplay hasn’t aged all that well either. As with the graphics, the game is sort of a progenitor for the modern arcade racer. The “Arcade” mode (which, loyal to the original game, is the bulk of the re-release) is your average “race around this track, don’t let the time run out, get high enough in the positions by the end”, as one would expect. The port adds a few other modes: you can do time trial runs on the three tracks, or you can do an “endurance race” on any of them where you have to go as long as you can before your tires wear out, or you can do some set challenges on each of the tracks, not many of which are especially interesting or enjoyable.
However, the best addition here is the “Karaoke” mode. It’s very basic – you just choose one of Daytona‘s four songs and whether or not you want the car to drive itself, then you’re dropped onto a track by yourself while the song plays and the lyrics flash on the screen in a font very reminiscent of from when the game was made.
There’s no microphone use or anything like that. You just drive (or sit on your bum with your controller on the table) and sing along with the beautiful, heavily-synthesized soundtrack. It’s a bundle of fun, to say the least. Belting out those tunes for almost no other reason than to belt out those tunes is like taking a trip back in time to the arcades, obnoxiously yelling “ROLLIIING STAAAAAAAAAAART” as the race starts to annoy other people in the room.
Unfortunately, while the framing for the driving is decent, the driving itself doesn’t hold up all that well, which ruins most of the experience. It’s not a game meant to be played on a controller; the finesse in some of the turns and the massive amounts of power you need to throw the car into the other ones doesn’t work well at all on a controller. And I don’t think the crowd that’d be way into Daytona USA would also be way into other racing games that wheels are good for (i.e. sims) to the point where they actually own a racing wheel.
There’s also…not much to do in the game, when you get down to it. There are only three tracks, which, while permissible in an arcade setting where you’re pumping in quarters and just playing it off and on, doesn’t fly on a console. The game’s only got four songs in its soundtrack, which means Karaoke mode, as fun as it is, wears out quickly, especially if you’re playing the game alone. The online play is decent enough, but there aren’t many people playing it, and the gameplay itself isn’t fun enough or precise enough on a controller for it to warrant that much play.
Honestly, this game was more of a breaking of that nostalgia to me, but I guess I hadn’t played the game in so long that it let those memories build up to that point. It’s a landmark game, very important for its time, but it’s just not all that fun or interesting nowadays, aside from the soundtrack. I laud Sega for their willingness to reach into their catalog of games to pull out something like this, but at the same time I wish they’d put more into it to help it fit the modern era while keeping in the stuff we’re all so nostalgic about.
If you’re still a fan of the game, and you’re not content with the Dreamcast remake or aren’t willing to get a version that’s at all different than the original, then this is for you, I guess. It’s the game in a pure enough form, but that game, at its bassist sense, isn’t really for anyone nowadays that isn’t nostalgic for it specifically.
Wait for it to go down in price, then I’d say it’s worth picking up, but at $10, it’s too pricey for too little change.