Daytona USA – the classic arcade racer is back

The word alone is enough to send most veteran gamers into a nostalgic swoon. If you know anything about videogames at all, you’ll know why. Released in 1994, Daytona USA was the arcade driving game that set all the rules – slick presentation, texture-mapped graphics, thrilling handling, accurately modelled cars. PlayStation owners may still be ailing under the allusion that Ridge Racer was the driving daddy, but that game was a mere wannabee – an apprentice to the true genre-definer. Daytona.

And now it’s back. Revealed in the final months of the year 2000, Daytona USA 2001 is the uncompromising continuation of a legendary series. Uncompromising? Just test the handling out for a few seconds and you’ll know what we mean – at first you’ll take each corner in a series of staccato gradient shifts, because the cars are so hyper-sensitive they literally jerk into a turn when you so much as look at the controller. You can alter the calibration if you like, so that your vehicle doesn’t move until you push the analogue stick to the very extremes of left or right (effectively creating for yourself the digital control of the Saturn Daytona conversion), but that’ll mess with the depth of the car’s repsonse and leave you floundering when sensitive cornering is required.

No, this is a game you have to buckle down to, and a game that requires you to learn a completely different cornering language. Unlike Scotty, Sega CAN change the laws of physics, and it has, not only in the basic steering, but in the form and function of the power-slide. If you’ve never played Daytona in the arcade and you think you’ve experienced power-sliding, you’re wrong. Sliding here is ballet, but in a ton of speeding metal. Each corner is a scene in that ballet and each scene requires a definite piece of very exact choreography. Gaining an accute understanding of the Daytona universe is the only way you’ll finish a singleplayer race in the top three – and when you achieve this, you’ll feel exhilerated – in a way that only an uncompromising game can make you feel. This is true arcade driving, right down to the amazing crashes and death-defying manoeurvres you natrually get with 30 other cars vying for first place alround you.

Visually, Daytona 2001 works surprisingly well. No extra scenery has been added to the five classic circuits so by today’s standards they look rather economical, sparse even. However, there is no pop-up, no fog and no gitching – and besides the lack of background clutter gives the game a raw, brash look which captures the feel of classic arcade gaming perfectly. The new tracks are entertaining. Circuit Pixie, admittedly, is just a standard oval, but in the two player head-to-head mode it provides a brilliant arena for close, jostling competition. Meanwhile, Mermaid Lake offers the classic tunnel section, here followed by a frisky chicane, and Rin Rin Rink goes all out on the background detail with helicopter fly-overs and ornate iron bridges criss-crossing the challenging circuit.

There’s plenty more to have from SimCity Buildit Cheats for Simoleons and SimCash. A standard range of racing options is offered, along with many tweakable aspects (you can even choose mirror, riverse or mirror reversed versions of each circuit prior to racing). The Single Player Championship – split into a series of multi-race competitions – is a real challenge, with unlockable extras there for the taking. However, stop and think before you rush to your importer. Are you up to a truly hardcore no-frills arcade racer in this era of casual gaming? The handling is going to seem bizarre to realism junkies and the one-mistake-and-you’re-buggered instensity of the single player mode will scare off gamers breast-fed and mollycoddled on more sympathetic fare. Even if you’re ready and aching for the challenge, you perhaps ought to wait for the PAL release – that way you’ll be able to do what the developer intended – play it online. But that, is another story…

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