Review: Daytona USA

Those were the days. Walking into the TimeZone Arcade on Cuba Street, with fistful of coins, and a bunch of pals, jamming some sweet Daytona USA.

An arcade game initially released in 1994, Daytona was later ported to the Sega Saturn, PC, Dreamcast and recently an online multi-player version on Xbox 360 and PS3. But here in New Zealand, I’ve found that the arcade version has been immensely popular, at least as far as arcade games go here. Cabinets for it can still be found at most of the few arcades left scattered about the country, as well as at many cinemas, laser tags and at the theme park Rainbows End.

Daytona USA is a racing game, named for the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Players race stock cars called the Hornet (notably in the crossover fighting game Fighter Megamix, where the Hornet is an unlockable character that stands on it’s back wheels, boxing with it’s front). The cars feel quite resilient, as shown when in a race, you’ll try to get the upper hand on your opponents by ramming them into the side of the track, and after flipping they are only slightly dented.The gameplay in general is very competitive, with ramming galore, and a mini map on the HUD which shows you when other cars are nearing you from behind, allowing you to practice some ‘defensive’ driving techniques. That said, the racing isn’t extremely high speed, which is a trade off i suppose for the slightly more aggressive gameplay.

a mini map on the HUD which shows you when other cars are nearing you from behind, allowing you to practice some ‘defensive’ driving techniques

There are three tracks, a beginner, advanced and expert track. The beginner track (later called ‘Three-Seven Speedway) is pretty iconic as well as simple, with two long straight lengths, one hard turn and one easy turn, and the track starts with a “rolling start” so your car is already in motion when the race begins. The notable iconography in this track is the giant statue of Sonic the Hedgehog that is prominent during half the track, assuring you that this is a Sega game. The advanced track (Dinosaur Canyon) is a step up in difficulty, with several difficult turns as well as a lot of slopes that can mess those turns up if you’re not careful. But once you’ve memorised the track it’s just as easy as the beginner track really, and if you’re just starting off, make sure to watch your track map, there are dead-ends on this level. The expert track (Sea-Side Street Galaxy) is a big step up in difficulty, even just in terms of its size. The game has a time extension meter, so they have 40 seconds to finish the first lap, and every time the player hits the time extension marker, the time is reset but with slightly less time to get to the marker again. If the player runs out of time the race is over automatically, this is obviously designed to make the game more arcade friendly. But with the expert level, which has several different paths or differing length, it can be a challenge to keep the timer above zero. One has to know the shortest route possible, in order to keep the time up, but thankfully the expert race is only two laps long, so finishing it isn’t impossible. It also has a statue of Jeffery from Virtua Fighter, again assuring you of that Sega branding.

This is a pretty short review, but that’s because Daytona is a pretty simple game. It is one of those quintessential genre games, that is short sweet, and doesn’t need to play around with the formula that much. At it’s it’s of release the game was considered to be the most visually detailed 3D racer, and it’s easy to see why. Even today, with a little anti-aliasing, the textures still look gorgeous, with a sort of shiny optimistic feel you won’t find in newer racers. The game design and gameplay have obviously been influential, especially to Sega, where it’s style can be seen again in game such as SCUD Race (Sega Super GT), Crazy Taxi, and obviously Daytona’s own sequels, Daytona US 2 and 2001. Oh, and on a final note, that attract music is just fantastic.

Originally posted on BOSS LEVEL – Retro Game Gear