Cruis'n, the venerable arcade racing series, finally lands on the Game Boy Color with Midway's Cruis'n Exotica. Developed by Crawfish, the game makes an excellent case for itself, replete with 12 sporty vehicles, 12 worldwide tracks, a stunt-based racing engine, and a handy password save. Unfortunately, while the game makes a valiant attempt to re-create the arcade experience, it falls short on a number of levels.
In terms of gameplay, Cruis'n Exotica bears only a passing resemblance to its arcade and console counterparts. There are three modes to choose from: exotica, freestyle, and circuit. Initially, you begin with five vehicles and one track at your disposal, but first place finishes in the exotica mode or high point totals in the circuit challenge yield additional tracks. The game tracks total miles as well, a statistic that earns you new cars every 500 miles or so. When choosing a vehicle, statistics such as acceleration, traction, mass, and aerodynamics are displayed - statistics which supposedly affect your performance during a race. However, hands-on experience quickly shows that such isn't the case. Other than the acceleration stat, the game's twisty courses and forgiving crash mechanics mitigate the effect of the other three attributes. Every course is full of sharp twists and turns that will throw your car to the shoulder, but since driving on the side of the road doesn't begin decelerating your vehicle until three to five seconds have elapsed, it's a moot feature. Computer AI is nonexistent, as CPU opponents don't jockey for position or attempt to run you off the road. In essence, your greatest opponent isn't any one of the other seven racers on the course, but the course itself. Stick to the center of the screen and you'll be fine. There are also stunts to perform while racing, such as wheelies, helicopter spins, and flips, but the speed gain from them is insignificant.
Despite the flawed execution, there's never really any doubt that you're playing a Cruis'n game. The game's slippery control lends itself well to powerslides and drafting, so you're not just racing on rails. When smacking into other vehicles or blazing over hills, cars can and will lift off the ground, oftentimes gathering mad airtime. Should you be lucky enough to accrue mileage, the vehicles you unlock, such as a forklift and a school bus, further drive home the fact that you're playing Cruis'n Exotica and not "generic Game Boy racer X." Sadly, however, the cute cheerleaders from the arcade version are missing in action.
In terms of looks, Crawfish has given the game a speedy frame rate and obstacle-filled backgrounds, albeit at the cost of an overall grainy veneer and two-tone vehicle sprites. In the arcade, Cruis'n Exotica animates like a bolt of lightning, so the trade-off in the GBC port is an admirable one. Sure, you lose the animation level found in such games as Wacky Races and Chase HQ, but you gain pacing that's arcade faithful. Make sure to turn the volume way down, though, as you simply don't want to hear this game's bland engine effects or tinny rhythm and blues music. That's about all one can say about audio, since background music, engine noise, and one landing effect compose the game's entire aural bag of tricks.
In light of all these caveats, you have to wonder why Cruis'n Exotica is worth buying at all, especially in light of such quality titles as Wacky Races and Test Drive Le Mans. The answer: feel. While the game is lacking in terms of overall gameplay, visual quality, and sound depth, there is never any doubt that you're playing a Cruis'n game. If you absolutely want a portable version of Cruis'n Exotica, this GBC port is a decent choice. Just don't expect drop-dead visuals or deep gameplay.