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Daytona USA Review

Once upon a time, Daytona USA was a beautiful game, and in many ways it still is, featuring Sega’s Model 2 arcade graphics board, spectacular drifting mechanics and thrilling racing mayhem – it was the arcade racer to beat, and to this day it goes down in history as one of the highest grossing arcade games of all time. Alas, that was 1993; the years haven’t exactly been kind to Daytona USA. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say Daytona USA has aged like a fine wine, it’s certainly a fun game and does well what it set out to do some 18-years ago.

Making its debut on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, Sega’s Daytona USA is an example of arcade racing at its finest. The iconic racer has been fully resurrected in stunning 720p — and for the first time gamers and racing fans will be able to witness all the texture-mapped polygons in their full HD glory.

It is clear that Sega has taken the time to bring this piece of gaming nostalgia back from the past and make it better than ever. Although the graphics are what they are, the frame rate is maintained at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, the soundtrack has been remastered, and new modes have been added–from the laughable Karaoke mode, to the fun and exciting online multiplayer mode.

Making their requisite appearance are various game modes such as Arcade, Time Trial, and Survial – with leaderboards to track all your progress and measure them up against other racers online. There are even 30 unique challenges to tackle in the aptly named Challenge mode providing some variety to the overall experience. I’m not sure how much mileage you’ll get out of Karaoke mode where the lyrics to the in-game music appear on screen and encourage you to sing along, but other than pilfering an easy trophy or achievement points – and maybe a little chuckle – it’s pretty useless.

Once you rev your engine and start the race you see Daytona USA in its true element, and that counts for double once you hop online and battle it out with fellow racers across the globe. And because Daytona USA was such a hit back in the day, my time online was spent not only racing against gamers from the good old Red White and Blue but from Europe, Japan, and Australia as well. Of course, where many online games can fail is the lag experienced during multiplayer, but thankfully during my online escapades things stayed pretty smooth with the lag being a minor nuisance here and there.

How does the Hornet handle? The controls in Daytona USA are exactly what you expect from an arcade racer of old. What was disappointing however was the pure weightiness of Team Hornet’s number 41 car – in fact I often found myself slipping off the track even when prepping well for sharp turns, but as time went on I was able to slightly adjust. Still, it would have been nice to see the controls handled a tad bit better.

At the expense of sounding like an old man, what many modern gamers often forget when dabbling with old-school games is the steep learning curve and difficulty many games of Daytona’s vintage possess. In what might be a slight nod to modern racers, Sega has included a nifty rewind feature similar to that in the Forza Motorsports series that allows all you whipper-snappers the luxury of pausing the game and rewinding to the moment just before you rocketed through that seemingly innocent turn.

In truth, Daytona USA is a solid port and an example of how classic games buried in nostalgia can and should be re-introduced to the modern HD era. Hats off to Sega for their effort, and while pitting Daytona USA up against modern racing games would be about as fair as challenging Michael Schumacher to a race in my Corolla — Daytona’s dated feel, clunky handling, and lack of content prevent it from truly being a must-buy. However, the upgrade to HD, blistering 60 frames per second, and addition of online multiplayer make Daytona USA a decent purchase for racing vets and newcomers looking to experience a bit of gaming history. Daytona USA is available now for 800 MS Points or $9.99 through the PlayStation Network. 

(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Sega)