Racing for home.
Regardless of how advanced video game consoles become, they'll never be able to match the feeling of an arcade experience. The noise of the crowds, the heavy scent of junk food and spilt soda in the air, and the ability to stand next to a perfect stranger and kick their butt are just some of the things that are tough to replicate at home.
Another big one-up the arcades have over the home console are those big, geeky, interactive machines. Fighter pilot games that move players around, shooters with outrageously large guns, and of course racing games that put you in an actual driver's seat all help bring the experience alive.
Daytona USA is a great example of this. Players sit in a hard, uncomfortable driver's seat (some of which have a vibration function) and race against up to seven strangers. Competition is fierce and spectators can often see sweat streaming from the players' faces. Ah, the memories. As I sit here with the Dreamcast version of this great game, I can't help but miss the old arcade.
At first glance, the DC's version of Daytona USA seems pretty good. The graphics are easily as good as the arcade, if not better. The control is extremely touchy, but this can be adjusted to your liking in the options menu. You'll also race through the very same tracks as you did in the arcade as well as three brand new ones exclusive to the Dreamcast. Best of all, the framerate is excellent and up to 40 cars can race around with no slowdown. This is definitely a solid port.
But even though the core of the arcade game made it through, the fun of the arcade experience didn't. The most obvious failed attempts at replicating the arcade experience is the strange manual shifting. Rather than one button for upshift and one for down, players must use the faux stick-shifting scheme with a single button designated for each gear. This is definitely an awkward arrangement and makes a simple racing game much more complex than it needs to be.
Another supreme disappointment is the multiplayer game. Only two people can duke it out head to head from one console. The DC has four controller ports, so why not use them all? I understand that a four-player split screen is incredibly small, but since the courses in Daytona are not very complex, it could have worked.
So fortunately for us, there's online multiplayer! Wow, can you imagine the insanity of forty people around the world racing against each other at the same time? It would be fantastic! Amazing! Ridiculous, even!
Well race fans, I've got some bad news, worse news, and heartbreaking news. The bad news is that forty people can't play at the same time. "Okay," you're thinking, "maybe it'll be like ten or twenty at a time." Wrong. You can't even play with two handfuls of people. It is with a heavy heart that I must report that only FOUR people can race together online. Remember, that figure includes you as well, giving rise to a mere three opponents.
Good multiplayer is the heart of the arcade version and it's extremely sad to see the DC multilplayer handled so poorly. Daytona USA is too simple to stand on its own legs as a home console game without the wonders of intense multiplayer. The fact of the matter is that it's just not very much fun.
To be fair, the home version does have a few neat additions that weren't featured in the arcades. In addition to the three exclusive circuits, the DC version throws a few unlockable cars into the mix.
There's also more to the online portion besides the racing. A network ranking system allows players to download others' driving records, giving you the ability to research the strategy of other drivers. You can even pick up ghost car data here and see what you're up against. Not thrilling stuff, but it doesn't hurt.
Daytona USA is just one of those great arcade games that doesn't make the journey home very well. Although the Dreamcast version does have most of the features of the big arcade machine, it's missing the essential multiplayer fun. I think I'll save my quarters and pay a visit to the local bowling alley instead.