Review by gm_matthew

Reviewed: 06/01/07 | Updated: 09/09/07

#1 in my Top 10 Best Racing Games list... (update)

Ever since the release of Gran Trak 10 in the arcades back in 1974, the quest to make the perfect racing game had begun. The 70's best shot was Sprint 2. In the 80's, it was Pole Position.

The trouble with many racing games nowadays is that they simply try to include MORE of everything. MORE is better. MORE is essential to be the best. In many cases, MORE is a good thing, but only if the game is any good to start with. A game with mediocre controls but 10,000 tracks and cars is not the best racing game ever made.

Back in the 'good old days', when the year was then 1992 and games with 30 tracks were much too big, Sega's first big racing game (excluding Out Run which is more of a driving game) was released, under the name of Virtua Racing. It was very good, but Namco stole the title back with Ridge Racer a year later, a game with the now famous drifting, MUCH better graphics, music during game play, and the current series which is still going on today.

And as if the early 90's hadn't already had enough, the follow-up to Virtua Racing came later the same year. Almost everything was changed: The single-seater cars were changed to stock cars; the new Model 2 board was used; the handling was made better; the seat used was made adjustable; the iconic 4-shift gearstick was used. Plus, as a finishing touch, multi-player for up to 8 was eventually added in 1994.

Daytona USA was born.

To this day, Daytona USA has been very popular, and regarded by some as the highest-grossing deluxe arcade game of all time. It is just about the oldest game left that I can find in most arcades. Ridge Racer is rare, and I have NEVER seen Virtua Racing in action. But Daytona USA has lasted, and is still one of the arcade leaders today.

Daytona's overall popularity, however, was severely damaged by horrible Saturn and PC ports, and then a re-make (Championship Circuit Edition) that lost the original game's charm. Even the Dreamcast version in 2001 didn't please everyone, as its handling was not quite right.

But no number of unsuccessful ports can ruin the original game's chances of being the greatest racing game ever made. After all, just how good is it? Well, the best way to describe it is to tell you to find an 8-player version in the arcades, grab 7 friends, have a go against each other and find out for yourself. Otherwise, there's the rest of this humble review to read...

Firstly, the graphics are great. At the time of its release, Daytona USA had the most superior graphics around. The cars and tracks are in superb detail, well-using the Model 2 board's capabilities. The lighting is very good as well, and the game runs at a fluent 60 frames per second with no slow-down. Just about the only complaint is the wheels, which normally only have 8 sides. But still, why let such a small thing ruin this game?

The sounds are great and the music is very nice for most people, some may find the music a bit annoying (especially Let's Go Away on the advanced track and during attract mode) but others will really like it. Just wait until you hear Pounding Pavement (accessible by pressing the green button as the game starts).

Now comes the big one: what is this game like to play? Single-player, the game really is very good, being easy to get into but monstrously hard to master, with mind-bogglingly difficult techniques such as the 4-2-3-4 shifting, braking with and without keeping the gas pedal floored, taking some corners while not drifting at all and so on. You do not get techniques this special and this hard in any other racing game (except the sequel, Daytona USA 2, but some techniques are changed a bit). If you thought Mario Kart 'snaking' was hard to master, you've never played this game to its full limits before.

The Beginner track is easy enough to master (and has the best overall feel) but it still requires the 4-2-3-4 shifting mentioned earlier, or just braking if you can't do the shifting. But once you move on to Advanced and Expert, you're in for a HUGE challenge. The Expert track is a nightmare to do well, so far I haven't got under 3'30 at all (and I'm a good player IMO), and some people can get to 3'20 or even better.

But once you start to play the multi-player mode, the game is no longer just a brilliant racing game. It becomes the best racing game ever made.

The rushes to get into the lead are terrific, and thanks to the handicap system experts can only try to prolong their lead for as long as possible as the not-so-good players catch up. The pile-ups you can get into are incredible, as many as four players can all crash spectacularly into the same wall (and yes, I've been in such situations). To be quite honest, you have not lived until you have played Daytona USA against several opponents.

You may think that only three tracks and one car is pathetic by today's standard, but it is enough, honestly. This game will hold your interest incredibly well for a game with only three tracks. Even once you've won all the races, you'll be going for the best times or just racing with friends (or enemies). This game in terms of fun even puts Gran Turismo or Project Gotham Racing to shame.

The reason why I think Daytona USA is the greatest racing game ever made is that I've never, ever, ever become tired of it, and it is the only racing game where I can always say the three rarest words in all of video games: 'All is well'. No frustration. No worry about something going wrong. No loss of fun at all. If you're a good player, you'll know. Mistakes are only made by players that KNOW that they aren't the best.

Overall, I believe this game to be the best. If I saw a chance to buy an arcade cabinet, I might actually consider buying it. That's how much I want this game to be playable at home (excluding the current releases). Apart from that and a future release from Sega (which is not planned as of 09/08/2007 but may eventually happen), your best bet is the Dreamcast version. It's very good, and the controls are mostly faithful to the arcade version. But the arcade version is still by far the best, mainly in multi-player. If there is a Daytona USA machine local, especially a multi-player one, you should start playing it. Even if it's expensive, it's still worth the money.

And now for an odd question: buy or rent? Well, this game is probably worth the price of the arcade machine if you really want this game. It's that good. Too bad such machines for sale aren't common in the UK where I live.

So there you have it, my review for the best racing game of all time. Now stop reading and go and find out for yourself.

10/10

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Daytona USA (US, 12/31/94)

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