Racing games were never my thing (apart from awesome Kart racers) but when the N64 came out, there wasn’t a ton of game choice. Cruisin USA came out fairly early in the lifecycle of the system, so when I was finished with Mario 64, I ended up borrowing this game from a friend. At the time I loved it because it had awesome music, 2-player action, and you could take control of a bus! Recently I decided to revisit this old game, hoping to have as much fun as I did back when I first played it. I was pretty disappointed.
As an arcade racer there isn’t really much of a story. Your job is to race across the United States of America in one of four cars. Each car has a different look but they mostly felt the same while driving. There are a couple hidden cars in the game like a cop car and a bus! These added a nice sense of variety to the otherwise boring cars initially available at the start of the game.
In terms of gameplay, this is a fast arcade racer! You take control of your car and race against a slew of other racers – getting first place in a race to move onto the next. You have a button to accelerate and a button to break. I think there might also be a button to slide – but I never used it much. You can also select between automatic an manual gear shifts. I also ways opted for automatic but the option is nice to have.
The game controls are tight and responsive…but sometimes overly so. I often found myself overshooting gradual turns and had to rely on lightly tapping the control stick a number of times to make sure I didn’t end up in the ditch. The other thing that bothered me was how easy it was to wipe out; anytime you run into a car or a car runs into you, you go flying and flip all over the place. This really breaks up the action in a bad way. For an arcade racer, I was expecting the cars to be a bit more durable! In terms of gameplay overall, the game certainly has its fun moments but racing games have come a long way from here (including the sequels to this game)! The one saving grace was the two-player multiplayer which is why I played this game so much as a child – but why wasn’t it four player!
In terms of the tracks, there are 10 total with each having an assigned difficulty. While most are fun to play, some of the harder ones are just plain nasty because of how tight the turns are and how easy it is to crash. I felt like skill really didn’t have much to do with how far you got in these levels. The worst of the bunch is the forest level where players can barely seen anything throughout!
On the plus side, many of the stages have multiple sections ranging from outdoor street environments to tunnels and underground areas. I really enjoyed this design decision as it made the levels more fun to drive through and explore.
In terms of the graphics, this game looks pretty horrible by todays standards, but it moves pretty fast and doesn’t seem to have much slowdown. There is a ton of variety in the types of level you get to traverse ranging from Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Grand Canyon, and Redwood Forest. The only thing that bugged me was how low resolution and blurry some of the objects were like the trees in the forest level. I found the music be the highlight of the game, it has some iconic tunes that instantly make me think of this game. The game had suprisingly good voice clips in it, which helped make the game feel a bit more polished.
In summary, this is not a great N64 racing game. It was an early release that was a quick and dirty port from the arcade. The controls are not great and it’s too easy to get knocked off the road for an arcade racer! It does have multiplayer – but only two players not four! I don’t really recommend it considering there are tons of other awesome N64 racing games including the two sequels to this game which are a ton of fun (to be reviewed in the future). Overall I give this game a 5/10.
Final Score: 5/10