The original Cruis'n USA was released into a video game climate very different from the one we know today. Way back then, the first game in the Cruis'n series was also one of the first games for Nintendo's brand-new Nintendo 64. Inspired by a fairly successful arcade game of the same name, USA was impressive simply because 3D graphics were still a novelty on home systems, but the gameplay left complexity by the wayside. Fast-forward to an era in which Nintendo 64 games are at the bottom of the graphical barrel. When viewed in this context, Cruis'n Exotica, Midway's latest entry in the series, isn't nearly as impressive as its predecessors.
Cruis'n Exotica maintains the light arcade-like feel of the previous Cruis'n games. Exotica's gameplay certainly lacks depth, but it's easy to pick up and play. The controls are pretty simple, as racers go, and the surprisingly forgiving physics model ensures that you'll never lose more than a second or two for any kind of crash, whether it involves running into a tree or flipping 20 feet into the air. There's a school of thought concerning racing games that says total realism detracts from the fun, and Cruis'n Exotica takes this concept to the extreme.
Cruis'n USA contained courses spread across the United States, and Cruis'n World had players racing through notable global locations. True to its name, then, Cruis'n Exotica features some pretty bizarre tracks, such as the Las Vegas strip, an underwater Atlantis course, and even the red dunes of Mars. The game's lineup of cars is similarly wacky - everything from a taxicab to a solar-powered car is represented. All these goofy elements combine with the lightweight gameplay to produce a game that's hard to take seriously.
No racer would be complete without multiple gameplay modes and unlockable extras, and Cruis'n Exotica has a few of those too. You can play single races on any of the available tracks, or you can play in a full championship mode that sends you through each track in sequential order. Completing some tracks will open up new options - such as extra cars - for added replay value. A two-player mode is also available for those who want to put a hit on the frame rate.
Speaking of frame rate, Cruis'n Exotica has a high one. The game's graphics run quite smoothly on a platform that's hardly renowned for smooth graphics. Unfortunately, this smoothness comes at a price - Exotica's cars and tracks lack detail. The game looks decent, but it won't blow your mind.
Cruis'n Exotica is an amusing diversion, but there are definitely better racing games. If you're in it for the speed and the thrill of narrowly weaving between your opponents' cars, pass it over. Playing Exotica requires very little skill or finesse, but for the casual gamer who doesn't want to commit lots of time to racing a track, that's not really a bad thing.