Regardless as to its chequered console history, Sega has cast aside any doubts about their venerable Daytona USA franchise and spun this XBLA and PSN HD reboot into one of their best updates in recent years. That they have improved their track record by simply leaving the majority of Daytona alone speaks as much about the original code as it does their own modern processes. This is the game you remember, and it’s the game many of you will love.
As far as the nuts and bolts are concerned, the graphical spit and polish applied here is of the nature of a quick buff and shine rather than a complete engine overhaul. Textures are notably sharper and cleaner than the original version, but – aside from a 1080p resolution – everything else remains as it was. Those blue skies, colourful valleys and implausibly winding tracks contain the same sense of playful design as they did in the arcades of yore, and for once the game has been lent a responsive and intuitive control scheme that puts the appalling Dreamcast port to shame.
And when we’re talking Daytona USA, you really have to speak in terms of those smoky hovels and seaside dens of iniquity that forged its reputation.
For people of a certain age, this – along with Street Fighter 2 - will be a nostalgic trip that’s rivalled by few other titles.Daytona was a classic multiplayer arcade racer, and one of the few games of my generation that could spark wild excitement whenever an unoccupied four or eight-player rig was spotted for 50p a pop. Indeed it still does, and I have fond memories of clinching a sweet victory at the finish line as recently as last year.
The reasons why people took Daytona to their hearts are many, but for me it always boiled down to balanced competition. There’s some none-too subtle rubber banding on display in the human-controlled races, and you’ll frequently find your heavily-emblazoned stock car lurching from first to last place or vice versa. Crucially though, Daytona never crosses the line into giving anybody an unfair advantage, and in general, skilful driving yields results. It’s the same formula that the likes of Mario Kart uses to this day, and it makes for races that consistently generate gameplay stories for everybody involved, not just the elite.
When that’s transported into 2011, the only thing that really changes is an inevitable shift from a physical to a virtual play space, but Sega’s network code works just as well to recreate the sensation of competition. Turning laps and grinding down times is as addictive as ever, and whilst the extraneous modes are a little thinly spread (challenge mode, time attacks, karaoke mode, etc), this is one of those few arcade releases that simply doesn’t need anything outside of the original content. Indeed, I could happily argue that if Sega decided to cut the advanced and expert tracks and simply release the classic three-turn beginner circuit in multiplayer form for 400 points, that’d be the ultimate distillation of what made the original successful.
As for those of you that weren’t exposed to Daytona USA in your youth, you may well download the demo and wonder why such a fuss is being made about a skittish and occasionally buggy stock car racer. Maybe it’ll be a case that you had to be there to appreciate it, but I sincerely hope it won’t be. For many of my generation, Daytona represents the ultimate arcade multiplayer experience, and the fact that it’s arrived in 2011 with the original code intact marks this as a special release indeed.