For a great many people, Sega's Daytona USA is the best racing game ever created. The arcade game's bouncy crashes, forgiving gameplay, and eight-player link competitions earned it a devout following. A Saturn port continued the frenzy, as did two sequels: Daytona USA 2 in the arcade and Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition for the Saturn. With each subsequent release, Sega has been improving the game's presentation and tweaking its gameplay to appeal to even wider audiences. Its latest iteration, the Dreamcast version of Daytona USA, continues the trend.
Although it bears the original's name, the Dreamcast version of Daytona USA actually offers a lot more in the way of features than any previous incarnation of the game. There are nine tracks available, including all six of those from the two Saturn releases, as well as three new courses: Circuit Pixie, Rin Rin Rink, and Mermaid Lake. The inclusion of these new courses isn't just cosmetic either, as each brings its own practical enhancement to the table, such as sharp turns, steep hills, or jutting obstacles. Additionally, whether you're racing in single-race or championship-circuit modes, each course can be raced normally, reversed, mirrored, or in combined mirrored/reverse fashion. Initially, there are four cars to choose from, including the original Hornet, each with its own unique handling characteristics. Six more vehicles may be unlocked through completion of the game's championship circuits. Other variables, such as lap quantity, tire type, number of opponents, transmission type, and body color, are also available for adjustment.
Of paramount importance for this latest Daytona release is the network mode. Using the Dreamcast's built-in 56k modem, you too can challenge any number of strangers to four-person races on any of the game's nine tracks. Surprisingly, while there are some instances of teleporting vehicles due to latency issues, the overall flow of multiplayer matches is just like that of the game's non-network modes. While the game operates sufficiently over the 56k modem, the lack of support for Sega's new broadband adapter is disappointing and confusing. Although cars may disappear and reappear from time to time, it's still amazingly fun to plow through Three Seven Speedway or Dinosaur Canyon at speeds nearing 200mph.
Even if you don't have Internet access, Daytona USA is still a highly enjoyable game. Eschewing the unforgiving physics and powerslide-based handling of "modern" racing games, Daytona has always had its own unique vision of racing. Objectively, you could refer to the game's forgiving braking, high-speed collisions, and destructive crash mechanics as arcade style. Truthfully, though, there is a great deal of realism underlying Daytona USA. To ensure positive momentum during a race, seeking the best racing line and avoiding mild collisions is beneficial, while techniques such as drafting and controlled skids further bolster your quest for the top. Arcade veterans may be displeased to note that none of the game's 10 vehicles control remotely like any of the cars from the original Daytona--however, this isn't necessarily a criticism. Standard braking is a decidedly more important aspect in the Dreamcast version than it ever was in the arcade or Saturn releases. Tire grip and engine braking have also been improved, which means that while cars tend to skid a lot more, there's a much greater aspect of control as well. On that note, kudos definitely go out to Sega for mapping gears onto the Dreamcast controller's face buttons, a move that makes compensation for hills and sharp turns an almost instant affair.
Most importantly, Daytona USA for the Dreamcast maintains the general feel of its predecessors. Races are still quick yet frantic, while physics are airy but entirely forgiving. Even at a top speed, you won't win the race if you're crashing into everything, but you won't do half bad either. CPU AI has improved as well, but it still exhibits a plethora of exploitable flaws. For the most part, CPU opponents tend to follow preset lines throughout a race, which leaves you quite open to passing them. Similarly, inducing a CPU opponent into rear-ending you for greater speed is a common occurrence. On the other hand, the preset lines that the CPU follows are much tighter and faster than those found in previous Daytona games, so you're going to have to drive a clean race to assure yourself a top finish. Speaking of clean, there has been a lot of fervor railed against the game for its oversensitive steering--a complaint that has overshadowed the fact that steering is also more responsive and susceptible to minor adjustments as a result. Lessening the analog sensitivity in the options menu doesn't hurt either. Yes, it's a more complex kind of Daytona, but it's still great fun.
If Daytona USA's Internet play capabilities and honest racing excitement don't entice you, its excellent visuals just might. Graphically speaking, the Dreamcast release blows away all prior versions of the game--including the two Model 2 arcade releases. In fact, although the texture quality is a little on the low side, Daytona USA can hold its own against Test Drive Le Mans or Sega GT any day of the week. With 40 cars onscreen at once and a plethora of animated background detail, there are never any instances of choppiness or draw-in. If that weren't enough, the entire game has been redrawn in a higher resolution and with more graphical detail. Hills that were once cubic are now smooth; buildings that lacked definition now boast balconies and open windows; areas that were once just open now have helicopters and seagulls fluttering about; and on and on it goes. Series veterans will delight in finally seeing a driver through the car's rear windshield, as well as appreciating the presence of nonlooping clouds that reflect off the vehicle's paint. The game never skips a beat in its two-player split-screen mode either, as the loss of detail is almost negligible. Four different race views and a cinematic instant-replay option round out Daytona's near-perfect graphical presentation.
Of course, no version of Daytona USA would be complete without awesome sound effects, a cheery announcer, and scores of kitschy background music. The Dreamcast release delivers on all counts. The variety of sound effects is impressive. Each vehicle has its own unique engine roar and revving sound, while crashes, peel-outs, and skids vary audibly, depending on the type of terrain you're on and whether or not you're within tunnels. Musically speaking, all the same musical themes that gained popularity with the arcade and Saturn Daytona releases have returned, in addition to a few new segments for the game's three new courses. If you've heard the soundtrack before, phrases such as "Rollliiinggg Staaart...," "Blue, blue skies I see...," and "Daytonaaa, let's going, let's going..." will seem like old friends. For those unexposed to Daytona's soundtrack, rest assured it's catchy, upbeat, and totally suited to racing, albeit a bit more freakish than you're probably used to. Pit crew announcements, such as "Go easy!" and "Stay low in the turn" seem much crisper than those found in the Saturn release, while new additions, such as "Rear bumper!" and "Final lap, floor it!" are welcome embellishments. Although there is no continuous commentary, the checkpoint announcer also helps to break the monotony of racing with his own variety of checkpoint and lap announcements.
Other than its updated physics and sensitive controls, Daytona USA for the Dreamcast really is the return of an old favorite. A greater variety of tracks, cars, and options makes this sequel seem fresh and new, while the addition of Internet play provides an assurance that you'll enjoy the game for many months to come.