Daytona USA Xbox 360 Review

Day-ee-tone-aaa! Sega’s groundbreaking arcade racer of the 90s, Daytona USA, arrives on XBLA. Can it still hold pole position?

The arrival of Daytona USA in arcades across the world was met with almost unanimous awe. The then-amazing visuals, coupled with smooth arcade handling were sublime, and coming off the success of the earlier Vitua Racing didn’t hurt either. Sega was onto a winner, and it followed up with a rapturous home console release on the Sega Saturn.

Almost 20 years since the first game saw its first rolling start on Japanese arcades, Sega has brought the game back to life on current consoles via XBLA and PSN, and a whole new generation of gamers can witness the greatness that is Daytona USA. Or can they?


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As a huge fan of the original game, one I easily put over 100 hours into on the Saturn, I greeted the arrival of Daytona on XBLA with glee. Just hearing the, frankly ridiculous, music boom out of my TV was enough to transport me back to my younger years, and I was ready to get some arcade-style Nascar racing on the go. However, this immediate sense of retro pride was very short lived, as, my dear readers, Daytona USA has not aged well. Not at all.

Visually, Daytona USA is what you’d expect for a re-release XBLA title, a simple high def copy of the original. The problem is here, that it really is a copy, and nothing more. The terrible clipping, tracks floating in space, weird scrolling clouds and other odd glitches are reproduced exactly. These are issues that we could all accept in years gone by on inferior systems, but in today’s high-def ruled world, it’s not so much a trip to memory lane, as a shocking realisation of the limits of past hardware. Thanks to the lack of polish applied, it looks naff, pure and simple. This is made all the more shocking as the Dreamcast already had an updated, and far more impressive release that fixed many of these issues, but this outing is the original port that’s missing such changes.

These issues are minor, though, and of far more concern are the controls. I appreciate that Sega wanted to give the original Daytona experience to fans, but this just isn’t the way to do it, and the handling and controls are truly awful.

Again, as with the visuals, we were far more forgiving of some things back then, mostly as we didn’t know any differently, but now it’s a different story. We’ve now got racers like Forza 4 and Gran Turismo showing how real car handling can be done, and arcade racers such as Burnout, Need for Speed and Project Gotham demonstrating that fast, and fun racing can also handle smoothly.

Daytona USA, on the other hand, handles like a brick on ice-skates. The controls are basic, with an optional, and far more playable, manual mode, but this still doesn’t alleviate the clunky handling. The opening, and most famous, speedway track isn’t too much of an issue, but the other two tracks easily show how much Daytona has aged. Turning even the slightest corner causes the car to judder as if you’ve spun the steering wheel into full locking position, and the drifting mechanic is overcomplicated and awkward.

With plenty of practise you can, of course, get to grips with the game, but even when you’re nailing first position and setting lap records, you’ll never really enjoy the game as much as other, far more accomplished racers, and I fear most will fail to recapture the original game’s appeal. Younger players coming to the game for the first time will undoubtedly wonder what all the fuss is about, and will probably switch off after a few minutes and go back to their current racer of choice.

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The pits

The XBLA incarnation of Daytona USA includes all of the original content, as well as some extras thrown in for good measure. There are now 30 new challenges, which can actually be very enjoyable, elevating the experience somewhat, and there’s the all-important 8-player online mode. There’s even a karaoke mode, which, oddly, features no mic support, but simply puts the words on screen for you to warble to. Whilst the music still has that odd appeal to it, I’m not sure I’d want to spend more than a minute investigating this mode.

It’s a real shame that Daytona USA has aged so badly, and that Sega didn’t think to give the game any form of polish, other than a couple of extra modes. There aren’t even any extra tracks above and beyond the original three, despite more being created for the both the Saturn and Dreamcast editions, which makes the release even more irksome.

With a little TLC in the visuals and controls, and more tracks, this could have been a real XBLA classic. As it is, unless you’re a hardcore retro fan, there’s no reason whatsoever to spend your 800 points on this. Daytona? Let’s go away.

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2 out of 5