Having an arcade-perfect version of Daytona USA at home has been a long, long, LONG time coming. Eighteen years ago, Daytona USA hit arcades and blew people away with its stunning graphics and massive car-shaped cabinet that allowed for up to 8 simultaneous players in larger venues. It was hoped to be a killer app for the Saturn, but was greatly hurt by overall graphical downgrades, and terrible environmental pop-in because they rushed it to market for the system’s launch, much like Virtua Fighter. Also like VF, a revamped version came out later, but unlike VF Remix, which made the game better than the arcade version, the Championship Circuit Edition of Daytona added more tracks and cars, fixed some of the downgrading with the graphics, but didn’t do much for the pop-in.
Finally, half a decade later, a beyond arcade-perfect version, at least visually, came out on the Dreamcast with online play and gave you more cars and tracks to choose from than CCE, but suffered from some serious control issues. For the longest time, the series was dormant until Sega re-released the game sans Daytona licensing as Sega Racing Classic in arcades two years ago, with a 16:9 aspect ratio and some graphical improvements. That version is seemingly the version being used here, and results in the best overall version of Daytona USA ever on a home console, even if it lacks the extra cars and tracks from the CCE and DC versions.
The core game here is the same as it was in arcades - you’ve got three tracks to race on and two cars to use, one with manual transmission and the other with automatic. Each track represents a difficulty level, and they all stand out for a variety of reasons. The easy track has Sonic engraved into the side of a mountain plus a slot machine, the medium track features some tricky long turns and a beautiful tunnel, and the expert track has an interactive Jeffry statue, even harder turns, and a stunning Golden Gate-style bridge to drive over. What the tracks lack in quantity, they make up for in quality, and each is quite replayable. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how much fun they were to race on so many years after first playing them, and the little Easter eggs on them stand out more now than before since so few racing games have little bonuses like that.
Really, everything about the game has aged very well. The racing action is still pretty intense, and this is the best-controlling version of the game there’s ever been at home. I found that the 360 version controlled better on the default controller than the PS3 version did on the Dual Shock 3. Unfortunately, the USB Saturn pad doesn’t work since the game requires an analog stick to work, but the Saturn-style SF IV pads work fine thanks to their d-pad/stick switch.
Multi-player is almost as fun online as it was in arcades. Maybe more, since there are no kids begging their parents for tokens, or people knocking sodas over. It’s certainly more fun now than it was in the DC version, what with voice chat and far smoother online play. Lag is still an issue every now and then, but not a regular one - even in 8 player races, I only had a few seconds total dealing with someone else lagging. It’s especially great to have a sing-a-long to the wacky lyrics in the soundtrack. It’s a nice substitute for the karaoke mode not being supported online. There are some other nice bonuses as well, like a survival mode that tests your ability to properly pit in an endurance race to repair your car, challenges to meet for each stage, and the aforementioned karaoke mode that shows you the words to the soundtrack on-screen.
I love how the developers clearly embraced the goofy soundtrack, which I always loved as a kid. It’s silly, makes no sense really, BUT is very catchy; the songs get stuck in your head, and it just seems wrong to not have them in all their ridiculous glory. The CCE version of the game suffered because it removed the lyrics from the songs, leaving them as just instrumentals that didn’t sound nearly as enjoyable as the originals. The same goes with all other versions but this one and the original Saturn version removing the announcer saying your initials - it’s a little thing that adds some fun to the whole experience. Does it make or break the game? No, but it adds something, and I’m glad to see it retained. Having your initials, or whatever possibly obscene three-letter combination you can come up with either feels rewarding or elicits a cheap laugh.
Visually, Daytona USA still looks pretty solid. It isn’t the best-looking racer available for download, but considering its roots are an 18-year old arcade game, I was surprised to see how nicely the car models had aged. The pit crew…not so much, but the clarity of the text on the cars and roadsides is impressive. There’s also no slowdown, even with a screen full of cars - there are some strange collision issues though. There are times when you’ll nudge a rival into the wall, and they’ll go through the wall. That issue is relatively minor but noteworthy. The pop-in that crippled the Saturn version is mostly gone here; there’s still a small amount of it, but it’s incredibly minor compared to the monstrous amount that appeared nearly every second.
I wound up loving the downloadable version of Daytona USA. If you grew up playing it in its heyday, or enjoyed it as Sega Racing Classic recently, definitely give it a shot. For $10 on XBLA or $7 on PSN for a limited time, you’ll be able to play one of the finest arcade racers whenever you want against anyone in the world. It’s a tremendous value for long-time players. If you’ve been raised on newer games, then this might not impress you very much, but I think it’s at least worth trying out the demo and seeing if you like it. And if you’re an achievement or trophy collector, it’s worth noting that you can get all of Daytona’s in a single day of play. It’s not really a great reason to buy this, but it is one, and hey, if it does well, maybe Daytona 2 will finally hit a console.