Wildcard Wednesday: Daytona USA
Posted by Ken Barnes
Start your engines...
Wildcard Wednesday is where we open up the floor to one of our writers to talk about any game that they have fond memories of, on any platform. From Pole Position on the Atari 2600, through to Journey on the PS3, no game is off the table. This week, Ken straps in to talk about Sega's Daytona USA.
There are a few sounds in gaming that are instantly recognisable. Collecting a ring in a Sonic game. Jumping in a Mario game. The Xbox 360 achievement sound. Pac-man’s almost dubstep-like pill eating blips followed by the digital wailing that indicates his inevitable expiry. But for me, the most recognisable audio in all of gaming has to be the opening few bars of the theme song from Daytona USA.
If ever I’m in an arcade, I’m always subconsciously listening for that doo-wop influenced opening call to ring out from across the room, followed by the blaring (and irresistible) “DAAAY-TOON-AAA!” And when I hear it, there’s only one place I’m headed. The game may have aged poorly, but still manages to get at least one credit out of me when I see an unoccupied machine. Oftentimes, it’ll get three or four.
The blocky cars, limited track selection, and simplistic AI all come together to remind me of a time when Sega still had hope in the hardware stakes. This was – according to many articles in many now-extinct gaming publications - one of the games that was going blow you away when it leapt out of the arcade and ended up being playable on your Sega Saturn at home. That never happened of course, with the home version eventually turning out to be slower (20fps compared to the arcade machine’s rock-solid 60fps) and much scruffier than Sega – not to mention die-hard fans of the game - would have liked. But the arcade version lives on, with a lot of arcades in the UK (well, the ones that aren’t just redemption game emporiums, that is) still having at least a two-player Daytona setup available.
And despite being weathered by time, I still can’t say that there’s an arcade machine out there that engrosses me as much as I can be engrossed by a race around any of Daytona USA’s tracks. Be it trying (and generally failing) to judge the final bend on the beginner track, or taking on the twists and sharp turns of the advanced course, there’s always fun to be had. I’m terrible at the game – as is evidenced by the video of me finishing in the lower quarter of the forty car field on the beginner track of the Xbox Live Arcade edition at the end of this post - but no matter how badly the game whups me, I still come back for more. The fact that the slightest wrong turn can throw you into a wall and effectively end your race due to pitstops taking seemingly forever, is one of the main draws. When four or five cars are jockeying for position into a corner and you somehow manage to squeeze through and get the optimal line, there’s little that can top that feeling.
There is of course something of the rose-tinted nostalgia that leads me to love it so and possibly even to boost the game above its deserved place in the echelons of video game history in my mind. But even with that considered, Sega’s other racers of the time – the likes of Sega Rally, SCUD Race, Virtua Racing, and Sega Touring Car Championship – don’t bring about the same feelings in me, good games though they are. Daytona USA must have been doing something right.
A Dreamcast upgrade was put together – Daytona USA 2001 – and was largely a successful attempt despite some control issues, but if you want to really get the feel of a true arcade classic, a very faithful reproduction is available via Xbox Live Arcade, with a few bonus features thrown in to extend your playing time a little. The soundtrack in that version remains – thankfully – largely untouched.