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Daytona USA (Dreamcast)

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.


Rating: * *
Daytona USA Dreamcast - video game review

January 20, 2003

I'm going to play devil's advocate here. While the recently released version of Sega's Daytona USA on Dreamcast is a very fine game, it seems to be, well, lacking something. Maybe it's the memory of an earlier home version of Daytona from many moons ago; ironically, that much-maligned title is the better effort.

Released as a launch title for Sega's 32-bit game console in 1995, the Saturn port of Daytona USA looked ragged, at best. The small color palette, the rough framerate, and the legendary "pop-up" have been endlessly harped at for years; we all know that this game wasn't good-looking. But, as some of you may learn as you grow older, looks aren't everything. Daytona on Saturn played like a dream. It was always hugely popular wherever I showed up with my Sega console, more so than flashier games like Sega Rally or Virtua Fighter 2. In fact, I still think the original version is a better game (forget the graphics) than the DC version.

1 - The cars were a lot smarter. The AI in Daytona is what made it such a fabulous game to play. The computer cars feint, swerve, and contest for position not only against you, but the other computer-controlled cars, as well. Oftentimes, reckless cars will come out of nowhere and try to ram you off the road, making powersliding in traffic risky. Dreamcast racing is never as fun. Despite the occasional lane change, the computer cars never seem to notice you're there. And bumping a car from behind inexplicably teleports them ahead one car length, which kills the tension of bumper-to-bumper traffic. Which leads me to…

2 - Massive car crashes. The great thrill of playing an 80-lap game on the Easy track is knowing that, sooner or later, there's going to be a 20-car pileup. And there's a good chance you'll be in the middle of it. There's nothing quite like powersliding past Sonic Mountain and then trying to dodge racecars falling from the sky. By comparison, the Dreamcast version is tame. It's easy to crash opposing cars, but you never see more than one car crashing at a time. Computer cars safely dodge everything, and never try to take you out. What happened to the competition?

3 - The racetracks were better. This must sound insane, seeing as how there are eight courses on Dreamcast and only three on Saturn. But the original arcade tracks were brilliant, offering three courses that varied greatly in design, locale, and difficulty that are just right. Three Seven is fairly easy, Dinosaur Canyon is challenging but not too tough, and Sea-Side is damn hard. The Dreamcast features the two tracks from Champion Circuit Edition; of these, Desert City is good, but noticeably easier than the Saturn original (it seems the corners were smoothed out), and Nat'l Park is as boring as ever. Dreamcast Daytona offers three new courses; to my complete amazement, none are any good. Gone are the tricky twists and turns, replaced by wide lanes and long straight-aways. Where is the challenge for the Daytona veteran? Who seriously thought Three Sixty was too hard? I'm impressed at the lack of pop-up, but this is ridiculous.

4 - There were more secrets. I realize I may be speaking prematurely, as more hidden features may be discovered. But until then, I'm not holding my breath. Saturn Daytona offered more hidden cars, and even a horse - the coolest hidden "car" of all time. Dreamcast Daytona offers, what, six cars? Only one car for online play and no hidden courses? We're in the post-Soul Calibur world; this is just lazy.


5 - Saturn Daytona drove better. Needless to say, the steering on DC Daytona is awful. Of course, changing the joypad settings helps things somewhat, but this shouldn't even be necessary. Didn't anyone playtest this game? What is it with the lousy analog steering in driving games these days? Only Test Drive Le Mans and Ferrari 355 seem to get it right; maybe developers should develop for the joypad instead of the overpriced steering wheels.

There are many things I like in Dreamcast Daytona, like the excellent two-player mode and online racing (when the servers actually work). And this version is far better than the Saturn CCE that limped its way out a few years ago. But despite all the hardware power of the Dreamcast, it all comes down to the one thing that looks can't change: gameplay.