Strap yourself in for the ride of your... well.... day.
Racing games exist for one of two purposes. They either attempt to recreate high speed driving without the actual risk of life and limb, or they suck eggs. Most gamers agree that the former is more desirable (except a friend of mine who will actually spend the day sucking on eggs. No joke. He's a little...off.) I personally love a good racing game to spice up the day. When the guys at Nintendo decided to spend some energy on building a cool arcade racing game, they didn't mess around.
Cruis'n USA made a big splash as a coin-op, despite the high price of play. Much of the game's popularity can be attributed to a powerful graphics engine and incredibly smooth handling and control. As the first racing game for the N64, I was intrigued by the potential of the port. Unfortunately, Cruis'n USA provides a flat experience that falls short of the arcade version.
Cruis'n USA is your basic racing game. There's no plot; you just get in a car and drive. There are several different modes to play, the best of which is the extended 14 stage cross-country commute. Here you must make your way from San Francisco to Washington D.C. by placing first in each stage. If you succeed, you earn a faster car (and you get to see the secluded and little known farm on top of the White House). You can also choose to race just a specific stage or compete with a buddy in a two-player split screen mode.
You initially have four cars to choose from (Want more? Check out our code magic ), each with a different top speed , 0-60 mph rating, and turning/cornering ability. You can choose automatic or manual transmission, and can modify the presence of other racers, the difficulty level, and the music.
I found that the problem with this game is the sheer, well, boredom of it all. The arcade version worked well because the graphics were outstanding. The home version fails to live up to its rather burly predecessor, even with the 64 bit oomph of the machine. The graphics are, in fact, the weakest for any N64 game to date, with flat, flavorless scenery. There are also some minor problems with fill-ins and some general polygonal errors, the worst of which involves the abrupt appearance of other vehicles in previously empty spaces. The cars look decent, the road looks decent, the backgrounds look decent, but the whole thing together looks like an incredibly souped up SNES game.
Control is also an issue. The N64 needs a steering wheel (they're coming 'soon'), or Nintendo needs to not make games that require them. Driving a car with the analog joystick on the N64 controller is neither particularly fun nor easy. You steer the car with your thumb on a little stick, again highlighting the differences between arcade and home versions. We have opposable thumbs for a reason., one that doesn't involve auto racing. This is not to say that all racing games need wheels. In fact, one of the coolest racing games I've ever seen is harder with a wheel than with the D-pad (that would be Wipeout XL for the PSX).
There are a few bright spots in the game. Three different camera perspectives are available, which liven up the action by allowing you to change viewpoints in mid-race. I found the first person view to be easily the most immersive and exciting, though it was also the most difficult to get used to.
Also, the movement is pretty smooth, despite the problems with the control. Objects, scenery and other cars pass by with fluidity and near seamless mapping. The San Francisco stage looks cool; it's by far the most well-translated.
As the first racing game for this fledgling system, Cruis'n USA is really nothing more than a poor copy of the arcade model. It's not a terrible game by any means; it's just rather bland. If you're dying for some high speed to throw into your N64, I'd advise saving your money. This one is a definite rental.