Why should you care about Daytona USA? Firstly, it’s by Yu Suzuki and AM#2, creators of Virtua Fighter, OutRun and Shenmue. It’s also the highest-grossing arcade game of all time. Fact. Being so ace and so popular, you'd think it would be a top priority to bring it to home consoles in a decent state. Well, you're looking at the FOURTH attempt to do so, after two mis-steps on Saturn and a great-but-different version on Dreamcast. But this PSN/XBLA version is finally a conversion of the coin-op classic it was meant to be played – and it's incredible.
Above: The iconic 777 Speedway is now 100% pop-in free, instead popping primary-coloured sexy from your HD TV
But forget the intro you just read - let's pretend it's a new game and made by Joe Schmoe. Why should you care in 2011? What you get for your money is just ONE chunky polygonal race car with either automatic or manual gears, 39 opponents (up to 7 human) and three magnificent examples of track design to race them around.
I appreciate that doesn't sound like much, but the larger-than-life scenery elements and exaggerated handling mechanics make this a superb alternative to the more serious racers we've seen in the current generation. That Daytona Raceway license? Chucked out of the window after the title screen as instead you race under a giant fruit machine display and drift around the final corner like you're playing OutRun 2. This isn't realism – it's joyous videogame exuberance.
Above: Who wouldn't want to drift around a banked curve in this car under that sky?
As with most Sega coin-ops, the game is instantly fun on your first go. It's fast, extremely fluid, full of incident and features a delay-saturated announcer enthusing over the action. And with catch-up switched on in multiplayer, anyone can play it regardless of skill. Even my mum (who won't play games because she says she'll 'fall off') enjoyed it back in the day - it's universal. Can't say fairer than that.
So, newcomers can rest assured they're in for a fun, simple arcade racing experience. For fans, however, who sat through those years of duff ports, there's much more to talk about.
The best part is that it's a pixel-perfect conversion of the original, only better, in an oxymoronic kind of way. The textures are untouched, but the draw distance is increased. Surprisingly, there's still some pop-in on Seaside Street Galaxy (inexplicable, really, considering Daytona uses fewer polys than the original Virtua Racing), but everything else, from the physics of the cones when you hit them to the detail redraw in the middle-distance is 100% faithful.
Above: Don't let those ancient road textures put you off - the game still looks superb in motion
But what's best of all is that the car handling remains unchanged. For a game most people remember as being about going around an oval, the depth here is phenomenal. Personally, I can't believe I've discovered new nuances while playing this version, despite some 18 years of Daytona experience, but it's true - I have. At last, I understand why the Saturn conversion featured a 'one button for each gear' control method. Seemed crazy at the time, but it's actually key to the fastest lap times. Observe…
With manual gears like this, it's possible to take mammoth corners like the right-hander at the end of Dinosaur Canyon without ever taking your foot/finger off the gas. Shift down to 2nd (or 1st if you really want to drift hard), turn in until you're sliding, then go straight into third, redline through the corner then shift to 4th to shoot off down the straight, still at near enough top speed.
Above: About a 130 degree direction change and only 33kph lost? Manual gears FTW
Then there's the rocket start – a technique that's now a challenge in its own right thanks to the console-specific Mission mode. The challenges are simple enough for a Daytona veteran, but it's all extra content that didn't have to be developed at all. But I'm glad it was.
Above: The missions are clearly designed as a tutorial, but it's worth learning how the game works
Besides Mission mode and the original Arcade mode (which features mirror mode to boost its three tracks to 6), there's also a time attack and survival mode, each with online leaderboards. Survival mode is brand new, yet makes great use of the tyre degradation system. I always felt like there was less grip in Seaside Street Galaxy compared to the other tracks – turns out there really is an invisible grip stat that can be dynamically altered in real-time.
Above: The tyres are wrecked, stuck in a wheelspin. Also note: Better car damage than Gran Turismo 5
For instance, you start the race with good grip levels. But hitting the walls, spinning and rubbing against other cars all seem to affect your car's condition. This is why the pit radio guy is always saying 'you're burning up the tyres'. Here, for once, you really are. Come lap 4 or 5 in Survival mode, the car is almost undriveable. If you're good, you can still drift around the corners at speed and get a few more laps out of it, but if you've got enough time left in the bank, it makes more sense to pit for new tyres.
Above: The pit guys change the tyres and the bodywork magically bends back into shape. Hooray!
As a tactical driving challenge, this mode is the pinnacle of hardcore gaming, especially when you start finding new ways to boost your time. Knocking over a chevron or cone gives you an extra second every time. And, while it's admittedly grating to hear 'TIME EXTENSION' repeatedly spouting from your speakers, positioning your car to hit signs that you displaced on previous laps is a brilliant test of memory, logic and dexterity.
Then there's online mode – something not even Dreamcast owners got to experience in Europe, despite Daytona USA 2001 being designed to support it. Finally it's in, supporting up to eight players simultaneously. That doesn't sound like much, but it's as many as the arcade original ever had over LAN, which is good enough. What's great about the online racing, however, is the total lack of griefing. The game simply isn't set up to allow other drivers to deliberately knock you off the road, meaning every race is fun. It's still full of drama, bumping and those trademark flipping crashes, but in an exciting way, not a frustrating one.
Above: The crash sequence may not trouble Burnout, but still packs a punch. SMASH!
The original Yamaha chip that ran the MIDI-simulated instruments has
been reproduced perfectly (all the tracks were re-recorded for the
Saturn version with real vocals and instruments), resulting in
flashbacks to the excitement of slipping a coin into the arcade machine
and waiting for your mates to join the race. The arcade multiplayer
experience is finally on your console, right down to the post-race
win/lose/epic fail sequences – and they've never looked better.
Above: This is the single-player win screen. B. Buttercup demanded it went in the review somewhere
And that's where 2011's Daytona USA really shines. Everything's as you remember it. Even the old name entry Easter Eggs are in. Type in your name as O.R, for instance, and you get a clip of music that sounds like OutRun. Brilliant. It also still censors rude words...
Above: I'm sure that Saturn version changed it to SEE. Donkey Kong reference, perhaps?
But everything you remember is all delivered with superlative
modern-day tech. It runs at a rock-solid 60fps in HD and the 'transparent' chequerboard effects of the Model 2 hardware are replaced with proper transparencies. After a few minutes playing this, putting on the
Saturn version to compare is laughable. It's amazing what we
used to put up with (and pay hundreds of pounds for). I mean, look at it:
I know I'm gushing so there's nothing left to do but to give the new, infinitely superior home conversion my wholehearted recommendation. The three tracks may sound like you're not getting much for your money, but mastering them will take you years. About 18 years in my case. The steering wheel support could have made better use of force feedback and online races could arguably have supported more players, but I can't think of anything major to grumble about. It's one of AM#2's greatest triumphs and the gameplay is timeless.
Above: When the game came out, multiple 3D views were still a big deal. Try them all on the d-pad
From the full-screen attract mode to the cars-flipping-everywhere
‘Congratulations!’ sequence on the Expert track, Daytona USA is a
joyous, jubilant celebration of everything that made arcade games so
exciting and got us into gaming in the first place. Get it.
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