Daytona USA, the arcade game, had one car and three tracks. Daytona USA, the Saturn game, at least gave the gamer a choice, although two cars and the same three tracks were manifestly little for a home conversion. That’s why Sega felt it was necessary to release two more home-system versions of the game: Daytona CCE and Daytona Deluxe. They both expanded on the original, adding more cars and more tracks and enhancing the gaming experience. There was only one problem – they were entirely new games, not add-ons. So if you had the original Daytona USA, and were dissatisfied with it, you had to shell out for another game (or another two games) all over again. And when you did, it was the same game, except with more cars.
That’s why, when Daytona came to the PC, it came directly in its Deluxe version. And Deluxe, in this case, means eight cars on six tracks – a pretty decent number in the pre-Gran Turismo days. Unfortunately, there is still no license, so the cars are all Sega-made, and as is usually the case with unlicensed games, have pretty silly names. Still, they look pretty cool, and most importantly, they all drive different from each other. In most racing games, “Handling”, “Grip” and “Max Speed” are mere icing, nothing more than flavour to make players think they’re playing a serious simulation. Daytona, however, sheds all pretense and gives us an out-and-out arcade game where these factors really matter.
A paradox? Perhaps. After all, arcade games have always been known for their “have fun and fuck the rest” approach to the gaming experience. However, here is a racing game that lets you twiddle the features of your car – and then reacts accordingly. In fact, sometimes you’ll regret not having chosen a soft suspension or a slower handling, as your car responds to your directions too fast and slams against a curve. Other times, you’ll wish you had chosen quick handling, because your car takes forever to make the curve…and then probably crashes against the wall, too. The alterations that you do influence your driving, which is a plus already for Daytona Deluxe.
However, all this would be kinda moot if the rest of the game sucked. Fortunately, it doesn’t. Sega have created a well-rounded racing game where all the aspects are reasonably balanced.
First of all, the graphics; they are pretty good for the time and system requirements, but next to the 1994 arcade game…they suck. The detail level is much lower and the pixilation is much higher. Yet, I only noticed this when I played the home version and the arcade version within a 24-hour span of each other. Most of the time, the graphics look fine-dandy to me, for a 1997 game anyway. And there’s something that wasn’t quite as noticeable in the arcade version – trackside animations. On some tracks, horses will gambol happily ten feet away from you; on others, the roar of your engine will scare idle flocks of birds off the road. These types of little details are pleasing on the eye, and give you a feeling of really being “in” on the action. There are also spectacular pile-ups (especially on the NASCAR track), flashy accidents and a never-before-seen feature – a team of pitstop handymen who actually repair you car as you look on. All in all, pretty nifty stuff.
Moving on, we get to sound. One of the most debated aspects of this game – the cheesy J-Techno soundtrack. You will have to have the CD in the drive to hear these tunes, but I actually prefer it without. In the arcade, the roar of the engine and the ditties of the co-pilot are buried way down in the mix, and they’re really good. The engine roars satisfyingly, and the co-pilot is in the race for most hilarious element in a videogame, right up there with Abe’s farts and Neighbours From Hell’s practical joking. He says things like “try to go easy on the car!!!!” when you’ve just had a life-threatening accident, and he actually sounds a little like Rob Schneider as the You-Can-Do-It guy when he yells “you can take him!” As far as valuable advice goes, he offers none. But he’s hella fun to listen to, and it’s not like you would need advice anyway – Daytona is as straight-forward as they come.
In fact, playability is one of this game’s fortes. X accelerates, Z brakes and the arrow keys steer. There’s a view-change button. That’s about it. It’s intuitive, uncomplicated and fun. As mentioned, you can also tinker with your car looking for the optimal configuration for each track.
And the tracks vary in format, from the wide-curved Three Seven Speedway (“the NASCAR track” from the arcade) to the diabolical right-angle turns of Sea-Side Street Galaxy, through everything in-between. The one characteristic they all share is that they’re all extremely fun. In fact, about the most fun I’ve had playing a racing game was while riding Daytona Deluxe. It’s just a non-stop racing orgy. And I do mean non-stop – even the most wrecking of accidents will just make your car spin in the air twice and land back on its four wheels so you can go on racing.
However, it’s not that linear – the accident factor is realistic, too. If you crash too often, your car will not only show the damage, but feel it too – it will skid wildly, become less responsive, even infuriating. And it won’t go as fast. In fact, a single accident can throw you from a hopeful 12th place to a shameful 35th, even on the easiest track. This, coupled with the aforementioned tinkering possibilities, makes for a surprisingly realistic driving experience, even though all the other aspects of the game are pure arcade.
There is also a sizeable number of cars competing on each track, from a whopping FORTY on Three Seven Speedway to a minimum of 20 on any of the other tracks. This makes for fun plowing through the ranks. Your opponents are no slouches either, and won’t object to ramming you or squeezing through the narrowest gap imaginable. And did I mention they look gorgeous? That’s right, each car design is cooler than the next, and even though there are somewhat bland ones like Max, they are made up for by the eye-popping flashy one – wait ’til you see Phoenix.
Moreover, they all have different racing styles. Once again, “Beginner”, “Normal” and “Expert” are more than mere categorizations. Hornet – the car from the arcade – is your drab all-rounder, Max plods along slow but sure and Phoenix skids like a motherfucker, reflecting the wild stallion it is. In fact, the only track where I can safely use Phoenix is the NASCAR track, because the curves are smooth. But if you can ride him on the seaside track, then mister, you’re a better man than I.
So all in all, this is a colourful, solid arcade conversion that puts its emphasis solely on the fun. Car buffs and guys who like TOCA won’t like this one. But if you never had any patience for endlessly tinkering with seemingly meaningless details, then this is the game for you.
Solid arcade racer that is a whole lot of FUN. Realistic driving experience. Unintentionally hilarious voices.
Graphics are worse (!?) than the arcade.