Daytona USA
Platform:  Saturn
Players:  1
Memory Usage:  39 blocks
Optional:  Sega Saturn Arcade Racer wheel

    If you stepped into an arcade in the early 1990's chances are the centerpiece of the video wonderland was a shiny new Daytona USA machine.  Whether the standard two seat model, large projection screen hydraulic seat deluxe, or a fixed seat stand-alone machine - most serious arcades paid the big bucks to obtain a Daytona USA machine of some configuration.  Heck, most arcades worth their salt have a Daytona USA setup to this day.  The natural progression of Virtua Racing, Daytona USA was a dramatic advance compared to the other games of its day.  A huge step up from Virtua Racing in terms of graphics, sound, and control it was a game that was simply always in use and always had a steady stream of human opponents ready to play.  Quite simply, it cemented Sega as the greatest arcade game developer of this generation.  The term quarter muncher didn't even begin to describe the huge amounts of money the Daytona USA machines made and continue to make.  If you were like me you easily dropped hundreds of dollars into these machines at the then unheard of price of $1 per play.  It made perfect sense for Sega to port this all time arcade racing game leader to their stumbling Saturn home platform.  However since the Saturn was never designed to be all 3D all the time, the task would be quite a challenge.  Still for many years Daytona USA on the Saturn was the only way to play Daytona USA outside of the arcade but now in 2005 how does the home port of an over ten year old racing game hold up?  Surprisingly well.

Description:  Stock car racing is the order of the day, racing against an at the time unheard of amount of computer driven opponents on three circuits:  Three Seven Speedway, Dinosaur Canyon, and Seaside Street Galaxy.  Three Seven Speedway (beginner) most closely resembles a traditional stock car oval, eight laps from a rolling start beginning dead last in a pack of 40 rivals.  Dinosaur Canyon (advanced) is the circuit the game is best known for, four laps from a standing start around a hilly and winding circuit through a canyon where dinosaur fossils were recently discovered - against 20 rivals this time.  Seaside Street Galaxy (expert) is still one of the most taxing circuits in any driving game to this day, two laps around a huge circuit against 30 rivals with tight turns and rapid elevation changes.

Graphics:  The visuals don't come close to the smooth textures of the arcade version but that's really not to be expected.  Although everything is at a lower resolution, almost everything is still there.  All three circuits are accurately recreated from each individual turn right down to the sponsor banners along the retaining walls.  The frame rate remains solid although there are a few moments of slowdown here and there during wrecks when many cars are on-screen at the same time.  All the cars have different numbers and different sponsors, so although everything is lower res and jaggy, Sega didn't cut corners on bringing the experience home.  If there is one glaring problem with the graphics it's the draw distance.  There is pop-up a plenty and while it doesn't effect game play, things like the A&R roulette wheel sign at Three Seven Speedway look odd with the spinning wheel hanging in space until you get close enough for the rest of the terrain to be drawn in.  Considering that the Saturn was never conceived to handle high speed 3D rendering of this level it's quite impressive how high quality the over all graphical look is.  If there is one thing I miss from the arcade version it's the top five leader board that hangs over the Start / Finish line at Three Seven Speedway, was a nice touch to see your car number move up along the marked positions during the final laps.  I'm sure the only reason this wasn't included was due to it requiring yet another graphic routine to display the proper car numbers in an already overly complex program.

Sound:  Two words:  arcade perfect.  Every sound clip from the arcade version, from the attract music to the fast lap time initial entry screen audio, makes the transition to the home version.  This includes the three circuit soundtracks (The King of Speed, Let's Go Away, and Sky High) in perfect and complete form exactly as they were in the arcade.  There is some slight music track juggling were a clip will be moved around or switched with another but they're all still there and the changes are only made to better fit the game for home play.  Sound effects are accurate to the arcade original as well, from the starting lights to the engine revs and menu sounds.  Since the audio was a hugely integral part of the Daytona USA experience this alone makes a big difference in how entertaining the Saturn port is.

Play Control:  There are a decent amount of different button setup combinations and at least one of them should feel comfortable.  The upshift and downshift buttons can be remapped to the Saturn shoulder buttons which work out extremely well and the Saturn directional pad gives you accurate and precise car control.  Daytona USA controls better than most driving games do with a digital pad and initializing and recovering from power slides is a snap.  I will have to say however that the default control setup (Type A) is terrible compared to what I usually use, Type B.  Type A maps upshift to up on the directional pad and downshift to down on the directional pad - which makes accidental shifting all to easy.  If you happen to own a Sega Saturn Arcade Racer steering wheel you can use it with Daytona USA as well.  The Arcade Racer's default control setup will probably be the most generally preferred.  In this configuration Button C (rightmost button) is for acceleration, Button Z (leftmost button) controls braking, with the right butterfly paddle used for shifting up and the left butterfly paddle controlling downshift.  Steering control with the wheel can be learned with a little practice and eventually one can learn to control the car with the wheel just as accurately as with the Saturn directional control pad.  However it takes a gentle touch to properly drive with the Arcade Racer due to how loose the wheel itself is.  In other words the only control shortcomings of using the Arcade Racer wheel are due to the design of the wheel itself, not its performance with the game.

Replay:  If you've pumped countless quarters into a Daytona USA arcade unit then this should be a given.  In addition to the standard race against the clock arcade mode there is a "Saturn Mode" which removes the checkpoint clock and allows you to unlock different cars with different performance characteristics.  However with the removal of multiplayer, a staple of Daytona USA in the arcades, you're left to single player races for faster lap times.  Just the same, the Saturn port remains just as addictive as the arcade original is to this day.

Final Verdict:  In the years since the Saturn release of Daytona USA there have been other home ports of the popular series, including Daytona USA Circuit Edition on the Saturn (as well as a Netlink compatible version), the shaky PC port, and the amazing gift to the world of gaming that was Daytona USA (Daytona USA 2001 in Japan) on the Dreamcast.  Yet for those who prefer the original flavor of Daytona USA with the original graphics and sound, this first home port remains the most well liked.  While I will say that the Dreamcast version of Daytona USA is the greatest of the series, I still enjoy the sights and sounds of this original version of the arcade racing juggernaut.  Considering it's dirt cheap now days and was even given away free along with Virtua Cop and Virtua Fighter 2 during the last days of the Saturn, (and way more copies of the three pack were produced than there were Saturns left to be sold) there is no reason why you should not own at least a disc only copy of Daytona USA.

Written on 09-23-05 by David,
Last amended 04-13-06 by David,

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