Daytona USA Review (Xbox 360)
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In 1993, when most video games were still using hand-drawn 2D sprites, Sega debuted its new Model 2 arcade board in Japan with Daytona USA, a fast 3D racer featuring big polygons and detailed textures.
With an unheard-of 40 cars on the track and as many as eight human players racing together on linked cabinets, Daytona USA quickly became one of the highest-grossing arcade machines of all time. Linked Daytona USA cabinets can still be found in today's ESPN Zones or Dave and Buster's -- the modern-day "arcade."
Though coin-operated versions of Daytona made Sega rich, the company never produced a decent console port. The Sega Saturn version was rushed out as a launch title in Japan and North America. It featured reduced draw-distance, lots of clipping and functioned at only 20 frames per second compared to the arcade version's 60.
A Sega Dreamcast version was released in 2001, but even with redone graphics and eight total tracks, the Dreamcast version's laggy online play, poor car physics and wonky steering controls left fans of the original title disappointed.
Finally, almost 20 years after the original Daytona USA's debut, an arcade-perfect port has been released for Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network.
While the revolutionary Model 2 graphics have lost their "wow" factor, Daytona USA's memorable soundtrack and fun gameplay will have racing fans ready to drop another $10 of virtual quarters into Sega's updated Daytona port.
Gamers who were brave enough to move past the oval "Beginner" course remember Daytona USA as a surprisingly difficult and demanding racer.
Drifting -- a tough technique to master -- is required to beat the "Advanced" and "Expert" courses.
Cutting over grass, brushing against fellow cars or scraping by walls instantly reduces cars' speed by a good 20 to 40 MPH. Flips and spin-outs bring the speedometer crashing down to double digits.
AI drivers are aggressive -- with as many as 40 cars on the course at once, navigating through traffic and multi-car pileups is extremely challenging.
Players begin each race by choosing either automatic or manual transmission. Manual transmission offers a higher top speed and lets cars begin a drift by shifting gears instead of braking.
Gamers who want to earn the best times in Daytona USA will have to learn to drive stick.
Instead of making new car models or textures, Sega retains the original arcade game's look by upping the resolution, smoothing over jagged edges, increasing the draw-distance and adding widescreen support.
Texture pop-in has been reduced from the arcade version, though it's still noticeable along the horizons of the "Expert" course.
Daytona USA won't win any graphical awards, but it maintains the original's charm and runs at a solid 60 frames per second.
Takenobu Mitsuyoshi's famous soundtrack has received a modest update, with re recorded vocals and more "modern" sounding instruments, but fans of the Sega Saturn mix will wish that Sega had included it over the new "arranged" songs. The original arcade soundtrack is also available, but the limitations of the Model 2's sound chip make it the worst of the two options.
Arcade mode, Time Trials, Karaoke mode, Challenge mode and Survival mode make up Daytona USA's single-player experience.
No online leaderboards exist for the otherwise-excellent Arcade mode. Local leaderboards are available, but they serve no purpose given Daytona USA'slack of local multiplayer.
To access online leaderboards, players will have to choose Time Trials mode, which removes all CPU cars from the track, or Survival mode, which is an endurance race with realistic body damage and tire wear against a full field of AI drivers.
Survival mode is the more interesting of the two, as it awards time bonuses for performing certain in-race feats like making a perfect drift or taking a corner with no brakes.
The misnamed "Challenge mode" should have been called "Training mode," as it only exists to teach players basic techniques like rocket starts, drifting and taking corners at maximum speeds. Daytona veterans will clear this unchallenging mode in an hour or two.
Karoke mode also feels like a waste of development time, as it merely places each track's lyrics on screen and let players joyride around the course until the song finishes.
Daytona USA has always been a better multiplayer game than a solo experience, as arcade owners have historically bought four linked Daytona machines instead of one lonesome cabinet. While local split-screen is disappointingly absent from this Xbox Live Arcade version, online multiplayer runs smooth and features lots of tweakable settings.
Game hosts can restrict racers to a single type of transmission, set the number of laps, insert or remove computer drivers from the field and boot human players who have one-bar connections.
Daytona USA runs surprisingly lag-free for a game relying on peer-to-peer networking. In a dozen or so online races, the only lag I experienced involved players from Singapore and France. As long as you race with drivers from the same continent, you shouldn't experience lag.
While Daytona USA's audiovisual enhancements and eight-player online races are excellent features, it still feels like Sega has missed an opportunity to make the ultimate Daytona game.
Extras cars and tracks from Daytona USA 2 or Daytona USA 2001 would have made this Xbox Live Arcade port a must-have racing game. Instead, Daytona USA limits itself to being a great version of only the first Daytona game.
Daytona USA's gameplay still shows championship form, but its appeal is limited to Daytona diehards who are willing to re race the same three tracks against their friends, directly or through the online leaderbaords.
Visuals: Jaggies and blurry textures begone! Sega has smoothed over the original game's rough edges and brightened up the color palette.
Audio: A catchy, upbeat soundtrack full of bad Engrish will have you "frying high" and "feering guud."
Control Scheme: Daytona USA demands surprisingly precise control for an arcade game; this ain't Cruisin' USA! Thankfully, steering wheel peripherals are supported.
Learning Curve: Video games were a lot harder back in 1993! Daytona's twitchy steering makes drifting a tough skill to master. Thankfully, gamers now have an unlimited supply of "quarters" to learn on.
Lasting Appeal: A lack of tracks and cars limits the lasting appeal for all but the hardcore Daytona fans.
Score: 7.0 (Good)