N64 Connoisseur

Remastered Review: N64 Review #3 – Cruis’n USA

Man, I gotta tell ya. Sometimes being a reviewer is tough. You see, as a reviewer, it is my sworn duty to be objective. I can’t let personal feelings or affiliations get in the way of my responsibility, nay, my duty to you the reader. The quest to reunite my first eight reviews with the rest of the project continues with a game I love in a nostalgic sense. Unfortunately, I had to face the reality about the quality of this game. On May 25, 2013, I was forced to tell the truth about Cruis’n USA.

There was a time when every Wal-Mart you walked into had a particular racing game arcade cabinet sitting in the vestibule. That arcade game was Cruis’n USA. A short time later, Cruis’n USA found itself ported to the Nintendo 64 where it began its legacy of Cruis’n across a couple of Nintendo platforms. Let’s review, shall we?

Cruis’n USA is a cross country, arcade style sprint to the finish, which is always a good place to end. Starting in Golden Gate Park, you get to choose one of seven cars (three are hidden) and race a host of opponents to Washington D.C. During each course, you must watch out for obstacles like oncoming traffic, trees, other racers, walls, and road construction. Most racing game fans can get on board with this concept. Pretty straightforward.

Do note the top notch radar they added here. Well, go on. Note it. [ Editor’s Note: Noted. — Bailey. ]

Presentation is where we start to come unglued. The game just doesn’t look very good. The cars have very little definition. They are boxy for the most part and look like their design was more of an afterthought than a focus. The tracks are all supposed to be representative of real US cities and highways. However, there is very little to distinguish the tracks from one another other than some texture swapping with a couple of notable exceptions like Chicago and the Redwood Forest. While we’re talking about Redwood Forest, try running over a tree there. It falls over as if it was 2D cardboard movie prop. This leads one to wonder if all of the tracks are really different or perhaps there is a crew of guys that slap up a new set in between races.

As far as the sound is concerned, I have a theory. Somewhere there is lucky former Williams employee. He or she came into to work that day and the lead designer came to them and said, “Hey! You know how you bring your Casio keyboard into work every day and we all make fun of you for it? Well today you get to do the laughing because our entire sound team for the Cruis’n USA project has the flu. Also, how are you at randomly smashing buttons on a soundboard? Don’t worry, we’ll get someone else to clean the bathrooms today.” It’s hard to say for sure if that is exactly what happened here, but after a few minutes, you’d be inclined to believe it. When I walked by an arcade cabinet of this game. which by the way was supposedly running “Ultra 64” hardware (it wasn’t), I was drawn in by the sound of engines revving, catchy music, and tires squealing. What happened? Outside of the “Croooooosiiiinnn YEAHHHHHH! Cruis’n USA!” intro, you would be better off muting your TV.

This was one of the first experiences I had using the control stick for racing. It does a decent job of mimicking a steering wheel which was a very cool experience. The cars handled pretty well and were responsive which made it fun despite the sound and graphical shortcomings. There is sadly no sense of speed in this game though. Even when I pass slower traffic, it doesn’t seem like I am going much faster than them at all. It takes more than an on screen speedometer to give a sense of speed. “I know it feels like I’m going 25MPH, but the speedometer says 140. Who are you gonna believe?”

More than that, the collision detection is disgustingly bad. You will spin out having not touched another car. You will have come close, but you will definitely not have actually touched the other car. That makes for a frustrating race experience. There is a two-player mode to this game as well so you can race head to head with a friend or enemy. In addition to the single player cross country race, there is also a single race mode. I spent more of my time here as I have always some of the middle tracks far more than any of the others and would rather not have to fight through the other tracks to get to them.

Such stunning detail and.. oh wait. No, this is just super generic, isn’t it?

For what it was, Cruis’n USA was a lot of fun. Where the major disappointments come in with this game is what was promised vs what was delivered. Kind of like a lot of games today. As I alluded to earlier, this game was originally demoed on “Ultra 64” hardware. It was supposed to be the same experience in the arcade and at home on the N64. What the arcade got looked great, sounded great, played great. It was almost unbelievable at the time. I know I was borderline giddy when I first played the arcade version of this. I mean, holy crap. I was going to get to play this at home? Yes, please! Unfortunately for everyone that whole same in the arcade and at home bit was a load of… mularkey. What we got was a very technically watered down facsimile.

If that wasn’t enough to teach you not to trust game hype, Nintendo stepped in and did their usual censoring bit. There were quite a few changes from the arcade to the N64. For example, when you won in the arcade, a girl wearing a bikini top appeared to give you your trophy. In the N64 version, they put a shirt on her. At the age of 32, that doesn’t matter at all to me really. When I was 16? Well, you just didn’t take that sort of thing away. In the arcade version of  the Iowa track, there were animals you could run over and splat hilariously. All of the animals were removed from the N64 version. In the arcade version of the Washington, D.C. track there is a tunnel with money wallpaper. On the money is what is supposed to be Hillary Clinton smoking a cigar. I know, but at the time it was super topical and funny. Anyhow, the N64 version has what looks like Ben Franklin’s face instead, cigar free. Probably the most notorious one, when you beat the game in the arcade version, you join a party on top of the White House where Bill Clinton is in a hot tub with a couple of bikini clad young ladies. I know, but again, at the time it was super topical and funny. The N64 version just had your car on a lazy Susan on top of the White House.

For all of this game’s shortcomings, this game is a sentimental favorite of mine. It is one of those games that I would play with my father a whole lot and games like that, no matter how good or bad, will always be tops on my list. Really, at the end of the day, it is a pretty fun little racer and it is still worth playing. You can snag a cartridge of Cruis’n USA for $4 or less.

It looks more like body paint than a t-shirt, really.