Sat. Sep 18th, 2021

Long-time Nintendo fans will know that the Cruis’n series has an interesting history with the company. The original arcade version of the first game, Cruis’n USA, was said to be the first title running on Nintendo’s upcoming Ultra 64 hardware, a claim which ultimately turned out to be a bit of a porky pie.

Its subsequent Nintendo 64 port was generally criticised (a bit unfairly) for not really being up to scratch, but that wasn’t enough to stop sequels Cruis’n World and Cruis’n Exotica making their way to the N64, followed by a GBA spin-off, before the series was quietly mothballed (we don’t talk about Cruis’n on the Wii). Cruis’n Blast is an attempt to resurrect the series, and we’re absolutely delighted that attempt has been made because it’s successful in a way we could never have dreamt would be possible.

Blast was released in arcades (remember arcades?) in 2017, but the drastic reduction in foot traffic in arcades means for the vast majority of Switch owners, this will be their first experience with the game. And what an experience it is. Simply put, Cruis’n Blast is a fantastic example of what makes the arcade racing genre so entertaining when it’s handled at its best.

Fans of the arcade game will be happy to see that all five tracks are present and accounted for here, but given that comes to around 10 minutes of racing it’s probably a good job that the Switch version boasts a Tour mode that includes significantly more tracks: an extra 24 of them, to be precise, split into six tours of four races. Each tour focuses on a specific theme, be that night driving, racing through a storm, avoiding helicopter attacks or dodging dinosaurs. The original Cruis’n games weren’t exactly crazy – they obviously relied on arcade style racing but the most eyebrow-raising element of the first game was its liberal use of scantily clad women (who aren’t present here this time around).

The series didn’t really start showing signs of wackiness until the third game, Cruis’n Exotica, and even then that just meant a couple of novel courses set in the likes of Mars and Atlantis. The actual racing itself was fairly tame, bar the addition of wheelies and the like in the later games.

Cruis’n Blast, then, outdoes its predecessors by offering a ridiculously over-the-top series of high octane races, each with spectacular set pieces. One of the London stages, for example, opens with the London Eye (the big wheel) breaking free from its structure and rolling across the road, shortly before one its passenger capsules detaches and lands with a crash right in front of you.

Another track has you driving off a huge jump, seemingly into the path of a huge Yeti waiting to grab you, but before you get to it the floor gives way and you crash through to an underground section. There are countless examples like this throughout the game and rhyming off a list of them is ruining the surprise, but rest assured that each level has its own absurd moments like this which turns things into an absolute spectacle both for players and spectators alike.

This would all be for naught if the game itself wasn’t actually fun to control, but the handling is perfectly weighted and the drift mechanic – which brings up a gauge that shows how long you need to hold a first to get the best speed boost – takes no time at all to learn. Before long you can actually learn to drift on straights, in order to gain enough speed boosts necessary to win races on Hard and Extreme difficulties.

The sense of silliness expands to the cars, which is just as well because that was the one area in which the previous Cruis’n games did allow itself to get wacky. While you start off with a handful of licensed cars including a Hummer, a Nissan GTR and a 1959 Corvette, you can eventually unlock more vehicles by completing the games’ various four-race tours and finding the three hidden keys on each track.

Later vehicles range from slightly less conventional examples like a police car, an F1 car, a motorbike and a fire engine, to more ridiculous offerings such as a helicopter, a UFO and a Triceratops. All of these ‘cars’ can also be levelled up by using them in numerous races, eventually letting you unlock upgrades for them like neon lighting, special decals and body redesigns.

The game’s longevity, then, comes in collecting all 87 of the hidden keys, getting gold trophies on each of the six tours (in all four difficulty levels), then levelling up each of the game’s vehicles to their maximum level. That’s going to take you a while, but it’ll be fun getting there.

For those seeking multiplayer action, there’s split-screen for up to four players (which performs pretty well) or local wireless, but there’s no online multiplayer to speak of, which is a shame. We’d have loved to have the game’s carnage improved with the unpredictability of online racing, though we suppose this would have made it very difficult to trigger the set-pieces.

The only other notable thing we can pick holes with here is the game’s performance. Cruis’n Blast aims for 60 frames per second, and when it manages this everything runs spectacularly. However, it has to be said that it regularly fails to hit this target, especially when you apply a turbo boost, which causes the frame rate to plummet drastically.

Now, let’s not go overboard: these frame rate drops are far from the most devastating thing a game can suffer from, and the game remains perfectly playable even when the performance struggles to reach optimal levels. It’s just a shame that an arcade racer that thrives on breaking the rules and going wild should feel restrained in some way.

We weren’t sure what to expect with Cruis’n Blast given that the N64 trilogy received a mixed reception at best back in the day. We enjoyed those N64 games, but we were also fully aware that not everyone felt the same way. Rest assured, though, that Cruis’n Blast is very much its own thing and is a hilariously over-the-top demonstration of what the arcade racing genre can really pull off when it’s at its best.

And when we say that, we mean the genre as a whole. It may have the Cruis’n name attached to it but some of its ridiculous moments reminded us more of other Midway racing games like San Francisco Rush 2049 and Hydro Thunder, while the way its enormous jumps tilt the camera down to give players a feeling of vertigo is straight out of Excite Truck. And if titles like that get you excited, this is the game for you.

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Wizadclick | WAC MAG 2021