In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sega dominated the arcade racing scene. Games like Outrun, Sega Rally Championship, Virtua Racing, and Hang On are testaments to this. For many die-hard Sega fanatics, though, the game that always stood out was Daytona USA. Releasing in arcades in 1993, and later being a launch title for the infamous Sega Saturn, Daytona USA has built up an incredible following over the years. Such a following, in fact, that it’s almost always high up on any list of classic Sega games that needed a modern release. After years of said begging, Sega has obliged, and Daytona USA is now available for a whole new generation of gamers. As a history lesson, it’s a great demonstration of the “good old days” of racing, but you know… it’s still a pretty solid game eighteen years after it initially hit arcades, even if its audience likely will consist of gamers who were teenagers when it first appeared.

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Release Date: October 25, 2011 (PSN), October 26, 2011 (XBLA)
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Daytona USA is, effectively, an enhanced port of the original Model 2 arcade game. The core “Arcade” mode stays true to its heritage: pick one of three tracks, choose automatic or manual transmission, and race. That’s it. There’s only one car to use – the now-iconic “Hornet” stock car – and the three tracks are really just difficulty level selections, due to their increased complexity. The basic oval, of course, is going to be simpler than the nutty city course that’s billed as “Expert.” In addition, the game features independent difficulty toggles for AI opponents. The action should feel familiar to fans of older, checkpoint-based racing games: pass your rivals, drive well, and hit all the checkpoints to earn extra time. In today’s world of super complex, in-depth racing, Daytona USA offers the simple basics.

Of course, while this is just fine for an arcade game, in 2011 we expect a lot more, even for $10. Thankfully, Sega has included numerous new modes of play. The big one, obviously, is multiplayer over Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. While not mind-blowing, the online racing works, and really, that’s all that matters. On the single-player side, there are a few fun inclusions. The largest is the Challenge mode, that places you on each of the three tracks completing basic missions, like finishing a lap in a specific amount of time, drifting around corners, or mastering manual transmission tricks. There are also basic time trials, complete with online leaderboard support. To top it off, Daytona USA features one of the more… interesting ways to race, with Karaoke mode. Seriously. It’s not like Rock Band or anything like that, as you don’t need a microphone. Instead, you pick a track and a song, and the lyrics appear, as they would in a karaoke environment. There’s no scoring or anything, it’s just a silly diversion from the rest of the game. But, you know… if you’ve ever wanted to sing “Blue, Blue Skies” at the top of your lungs, at least you know the words now.

Due to its arcade nature, it’s no surprise that the gameplay maintains its loose, unhinged feeling. The controls are a bit twitchy, obviously designed for a steering wheel akin to what was built into the original Daytona USA cabinet. Regardless, it’s easy to adjust, and while it’s never “tight,” it’s definitely playable. There’s not a lot of complexity to it either, which lets you focus on getting through the pack and staying there. Of course, as this IS an arcade game, the difficulty can be overwhelming… after all, the game really wanted you to insert lots of quarters. Which is why it’s nice that there’s settings for AI difficulty, as well as for the amount of time you need between checkpoints. It allows for easily adjusted balance. Purists, of course, will scoff, but at least everyone can sample and enjoy the game. After all, they spent their $10.

Due to its age, Daytona USA definitely looks old. This, of course, is a common symptom of almost all early 3D games from the PlayStation/Saturn/Nintendo 64 era, so it’s forgivable. At the least, the cars still look nice, if not boxy and polygonal… but everything else is definitely a bit rough. Not that you can really focus on the graphics; the racing is still way too intense. It has been remastered into high definition, but there’s no real visual upgrade otherwise. On the other hand, Sega’s penchant for awesome audio is evident. From the famous “DAYTONAAAAAA!!!!” song to “ROLLLLLLLLLLLLLING START!” or the aforementioned “Blue, Blue Skies”, these guys knew how to make some killer audio for their arcade games. Sure it’s just Japanese cheese rock most of the time, but that stuff is classic.

The difficult thing about scoring Daytona USA is putting away the nostalgia goggles and thinking of it purely as a 2011 title. In reality, there’s not a ton of content for $10, though you’re getting one of the all-time classic arcade games for a ridiculous price, and a few neat bonus features to extend its value. However, it’s still a short, basic game that likely will appeal only to long-time Sega fans, or those who fondly remember the days when arcades were full of awesome racing games. It is, for all intents and purposes, a novelty game for some, and a niche title for others. So, Sega… as long as you’re in the business of making thirtysomethings happy by letting them cheaply relive their youth, can you get on re-releasing Virtua Racing?

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Daytona USA was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

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