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Daytona USA

Genre: Racing Developer: AM2 Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1995

The Saturn really stumbled out of the gate with its surprise launch in May of 1995, and it was a hard sell to justify spending $400 without much to show off. Daytona USA was Sega’s big arcade port, but it fell a little flat in terms of expectations. However, if you could get past the graphical output, it was still competent and playable. It was a good alternative if you wanted to play more than just Sega Rally and Ridge Racer on PlayStation.

In a way, the game was more of a follow up to Virtua Racing. The premise was to drive several laps and try to make sure your car didn’t spin around or crash and take serious damage. Daytona USA understood how to do things a bit better. You got the feeling that a lot of care and detail were given here to make it stand out in that Sega kind of way. Like most Sega racers, you were racing against the clock. Checkpoints gave you time bonuses as you barged your way to the front after starting in the rear. It’s rather basic stuff for a mid-’90s game.

Whenever discussed, the graphics are always mentioned. For being one of the very first Saturn games, they were good. Daytona USA is one of the better-looking games for the system overall. There was some downgrade, which was a given for arcade ports at the time. The car modeling was solid enough to look like NASCAR cars. Roads and areas were excellent. Of course, you can’t discuss this version without talking about the draw distance. It is pretty bad. This was also an issue on the 3DO and PlayStation. A lot of driving/racing games suffered from this. It was noticeable but didn’t bring the game down to unplayable levels. Overall, it is what it is and for what the Saturn’s 3D capabilities were, it still holds up better than most.

If anything marked this as a Sega game, it was the audio. The music was cheesy, quirky, and over the top. Despite that, there was a charm to it and it added to what makes Daytona USA such a beloved title. Even now, just the intro and its lyrics will have you possibly cracking a smile. The sound effects boiled down to car sounds, like the engine and tires squealing. There wasn’t much to the voices; It came down to your crew chief and the announcer for specific things that happened.

Like other arcade games, such as Sega Rally and Virtua Fighter, you were getting the complete package of the arcade experience in your living room. Sure, it was very limited, but you weren’t getting kicked out at 11 p.m. because the arcade had to close. There were two modes. The first was the arcade mode, which mimicked the arcade game. You had three tracks and the choice to choose between a manual or automatic transmission. The second and exclusive mode was the Saturn Mode. It was the same stuff, only without a time limit.

Daytona USA was a single-player game, but the controls worked well. You had four camera settings you could use on the fly, and the remaining buttons were for using the gas, gear changes on manual, the brake, and steering. You had different schemes, and even one that let you map any of the features to any button. Daytona USA also  utilized the Saturn Arcade Racer steering wheel. For the most part, the game played very well. It took time to master some of the turns. One wrong move or an oversteer on the advanced or expert tracks, and you could kiss that first place goodbye, especially if you were playing with a time limit.

You didn’t get too many options, but there were more than enough. Other than the controls, there was a difficulty selection, sound test, and options for you to complete a track’s laps faster and adjust the difficulty of the competing cars. A ranking section was included, and it kept track of how you did on each track (or until the battery died).

There isn’t much else that needs to be said about Daytona USA. The obvious complaints include the draw distance and maybe the controls. As I said, lots of driving games suffered with pop-up. Developers tried to make the best of it during that time on the Saturn, PlayStation, and 3DO. My nitpick with the controls is a very minor one, as it is still a lot better than Virtua Racing when it comes to steering the car. Outside of the occasional oversteer and trying to brake at the right time, it’s a lot smoother. Really, you’re getting a good experience, even though Sega rushed the final product.

Daytona USA is not my number one racing choice for the Saturn, but it is a game to get. Judgments can paint a picture, and it’s a shame. The graphics will always be discussed, but the arcade action and cheesy soundtrack make it stand out beyond the typical arcade racers of that period. Let’s fly sky high and go away to Daytona for some fun.

Score: 7 out of 10

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