I know it’s been a long time (too long) since I’ve been able to find the time to get in a review. But with the traffic at work slowing down a little bit (finally), and a snowstorm keeping us closed for a day, I can actually get in some writing. So today we’re going over a game I’m a little bit late to the party on, but one I’m glad I finally picked up for myself.
PROS: Visual design. Inventive tracks. Drifting mechanics. Takedowns. Split-screen!
CONS: Rubberband A.I. returns. No online multiplayer. Some track section recycling.
WHAT!?!?!?: Is what you will shout upon seeing some over-the-top stuff. But in a good way.
Cruis’n is a series that hearkens all the way back to 1994 with Cruis’n USA. Midway’s foray into the series was a fun and sometimes weird take on Sega’s Outrun. It saw you driving through several tracks from one end of the United States to the other. It was a lot of fun. And due to the IP being co-published by Nintendo, a port to the Nintendo 64 was inevitable. And while the port by Eurocom to the console was a solid effort it still didn’t perform as well, and there were some of the visual gags edited out.
Sequels Cruis’n World and Cruis’n Exotica took the series into an even zanier territory. Where tracks took you into impossible situations. Like driving under the deep sea for example. After these games, Midway focused on their more grounded San Fransisco RUSH games which were technically superior racers that still kept a similar driving style.
What some people may not know, and it wasn’t until I looked at the credits that I learned it, is that after Warner Bros. bought Midway, Robotron 2084 creator and arcade legend Eugene Jarvis would go on with other Midway alumni to form Raw Thrills. And Raw Thrills has been making coin-op arcade games at a pretty steady pace over the last several years. You’ve probably even played a few of them at a barcade or a movie theatre.
Well, Raw Thrills would get the opportunity to make a new Cruis’n game in a partnership with Nintendo in 2016 with the Cruis’n Blast arcade cabinet. The first major appearance of the series since Midway published the ill-fated Cruis’n on the Nintendo Wii. The Cruis’n Blast arcade cabinet did well enough that Raw Thrills has ported the game to the Nintendo Switch, and they’ve expanded the content to some degree.
So what sets this one apart from the rest of the series? Well, the fact that some of the original people who made the first three games at Midway also worked on this one really shows. It feels like both a return to form and a considerable upgrade over those old games. That may seem like an odd statement to those who have seen the visual fidelity of other racing games in recent years. No Cruis’n Blast certainly can’t hang with something like the latest Forza game’s photorealism. And there are other arcade racers that still push more polygons than what you’ll see here. And yet Cruis’n Blast still looks pretty breathtaking even several years after the arcade cabinet release.
A big part of that is due to the wonderful art direction. Screenshots don’t do this game justice. When you’re playing this game, it really is a treat for the senses. It’s bright and colorful. It has fantastic texture work. Everything feels cohesive and while things can be really crazy and completely unrealistic, it all does seem like it belongs together. You can expect to see stuff you would ordinarily see in some blockbuster action films. One moment you’ll be driving through a fight between two yetis and then a second later sliding down a giant flow of lava and magma and somehow not bottoming out or destroying your car.
Like the Cruis’n and Rush games of old, the game ditches the usual lap-based tracks for some A to B line races. Along the way, you can find alternate routes and shortcuts in each of the tracks. You’ll have to avoid traffic as hitting cars that aren’t competitors will slow you to a crawl. You’ll also have to avoid grinding up against the guardrails, walls, and other things so that you can keep your vehicle going as fast as possible. But not only are there forked paths for you to choose from but there are also many ramps to jump over and many tricks you can use to maintain your lead.
Returning from older games, are the booster moves. You can double-tap the gas to get a quick boost while doing a wheelie. You can do it while turning to get the vehicle upon its side. You can do it off of jumps to make the car jack knife spin forward. The game also has a nitro system you can use three times per race. Though you can use the prize money you pick up or earn at the end of a race to add more. This game also has a proper drifting mechanic. You can slide around corners at high speeds and begin to fill a meter. If you can fill it out quickly and straighten out your vehicle you’ll get a quick boost. All of this stuff goes a long way to keep you going at an insane speed. On top of all of that, the game takes a page from Citerion’s Burnout games and allows you to get takedowns on your A.I. rivals. They’re big, flashy explosions that even use a splash of bullet time to make them feel as impactful as the other crazy stuff you’ll be seeing at the same time. It’s all a super fun sensory overload.
Being an arcade port, the game has all of the arcade version’s tracks in it. But that’s not all. The game also has six circuits, each with its own four courses that you’ll need to place highly in. In order to unlock the following circuit. You need to get a Gold trophy ranking in each circuit. So in order to do that, you’ll need to place first in the majority of the four tracks and never less than third place. Each of the tracks (including the arcade machine tracks) has three hidden keys in them. You’ll need to find all of them in order to unlock some of the vehicles. And with so many branching baths in the tracks for them to lie in wait in, it’s one way you’ll go back and replay the tracks a multitude of times for.
Speaking of unlockable vehicles, there are a number of crazy ones including triceratops, a flying saucer, and a unicorn. But there are other more grounded ones including some classic cars, an ATV, and a host of others. Beyond those, you can also level up each of them as you re-play all of the game’s tracks with them. You can get new paint jobs, decals, body kits, and most importantly some slight engine upgrades.
There are four difficulties, and you’ll have to get all gold medals in each of the circuits to not only get to the next circuit, unlock higher difficulty settings. Playing through the circuits does not unlock them in the next difficulty either. So if you play through the game on Easy you’ll have to do it all again on Normal. Do it all on Normal and you’ll unlock Hard. Do it all again on Hard and you’ll unlock extreme. Fortunately, you don’t have to re-unlock the extra cars in subsequent difficulties, and the arcade tracks are in a separate menu so you won’t have to replay those if you don’t want to.
That’s especially nice since the game has split-screen multiplayer. This brings back a great party game option for you when you have people over. And guests can use the crazy cars you’ve unlocked as well. It even performs pretty well in split-screen for the most part although the 4-player option is a notable cut from 60 fps to 30 fps. But the game also has a local wireless option where you can network four Nintendo Switch consoles for a quasi-LAN experience.
So with all of the good on display here, is there anything to be wary of? Sadly, yes. If you come into this game expecting some online racing like I did you’ll be disappointed. There are no online modes to speak of here so the only way you can play with someone else is if they come over to do so. Eugene Jarvis said in an AMA they *want* to do so. But that doesn’t confirm they will be able to.
Another thing that will drive some people nuts is the return of rubberband A.I. You can expect to be clowning the other racers on higher difficulty runs only to have the distant second place car, suddenly boost past you as you approach the finish line or the game to decide to move a motorist in front of you when you have a third of the course to go. This makes sense as the game was originally an arcade machine, and the old games were also arcade machines meant to get you to keep putting in tokens. Cheap computer opponents are a simple way to do this. But this doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. You can fully expect to flip a few tables here, especially once you get beyond the scope of Normal difficulty.
And of course, if your friends can’t abide a lower if understandable framerate they won’t want to play in four-player mode as the look and feel of 60 vs 30 is going to be obvious. I think the game is fun enough to grin and bear it but some of the arcade racing purists out there may find it unacceptable. If everyone has their own system and game card the local wireless option mitigates this. But not everyone does.
One other smaller nitpick I have with the game is that it does recycle bits of tracks in some of the later ones. Particularly the last two circuits where they changed some of the visual cues to go with newly introduced themes, but reused stretches of earlier tracks. Many racing games do this, and it isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. But I would have liked to have seen completely original tracks in the end. I could have also done without the pretend Katy Perry theme song that permeates the menus as it just isn’t my cup of tea. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty good though with elements of electronic dance music, funk, disco, and one rock n’ roll track. You can cycle through the OST while racing.
But overall, I really like this iteration of the Cruis’n series. Its bright colors, wacky vehicles, insane set pieces, and Split-Secondesque transitions are all fantastic. The addition of drifting mechanics pairs really well with the classic Cruis’n and Rush formula. Tracking down the different keys for the unlockables feels fun and inviting rather than a chore. The presentation is a huge reason for that. Cruis’n Blast isn’t the deepest racing game. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything under the surface. You’ll need to learn some advanced drifting and the shortest routes for you to take first place. Especially in higher settings. Fans of Mario Kart’s gyroscopic options will also love that they’re an option here as well. But more importantly than that, it’s just a fun game. Whether you were playing the originals in the arcade and Nintendo 64 in the late 90s or you were raised on newer high-speed arcade racers, Cruis’n Blast is well, a blast.
Final Score: 8 out of 10