For many, Sega’s AM2 and AM3 divisions defined the early/mid 90’s arcade experience. The generational leap between 16-bit consoles and Sega’s arcade cabinets could not have been more profound; Virtua Fighter 2, Virtual On, and Virtua Cop’s appeal were limited only by quarters and closing times. Fighting game purists may beg to differ, but Daytona USA demonstrated AM2’s talents better than all the rest. Daytona capitalized on the accelerating popularity of NASCAR, boasted brightly colored visuals that looked like they were from the future, pitted the player against seven other real people, and, most importantly, you got to sit in a fake car. Getting the complete Daytona experience felt incredible, and it was mind-blowing if you were eleven years old.
Eighteen (!) years later, Daytona still manages to put up a fight. Though impossible to quantify or even estimate, it’s clear a lot of love and care put into translating Daytona to modern hardware. It zips along at sixty frames as second, the crude polygons actually look better than you remember, widescreen and the added resolution feel like they were there all along, the pop-in is gone, and it still actually feels like a fast game. The advancing asphalt can look a little off, like it’s not rendering properly, but it’s a harmless mark on an otherwise stellar port. In terms of quality, Daytona transition bears a great resemblance to Sega’s 2009 Live Arcade release of Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram, rather than the careless Dreamcast ports we’ve seen as of late.
Driving the Hornet car in 2011 certainly felt better than expected. The beginner course, a simple oval, can feel a bit like a slot car derby. You don’t really need to make use of the finicky drift mechanic, and Hornet’s ridged handling is always quick to reset itself in an invisible lane. The advanced and expert courses make better use of the range of Hornet’s abilities; monster elevated turns, sharp hairpins, considerable length, and those damn bridge columns add considerable challenge.
Daytona didn’t have Ridge Racer’s penchant for drifting or Sega Rally’s precision control, but it did manage a few traces of depth. Pitting, for instance, is required on longer, tire melting races, and banging your car up will ultimately reduce its top speed. Easter eggs, like the controllable slot machine and spotting (and spinning) Virtua Fighter’s Jeffry around are also delightfully intact.
Being an arcade game, Daytona wasn’t constructed with depth in mind. The Saturn port addressed this concern with a few extra bells and whistles, and the most recent edition arrives with customizable laps along with adjustable AI and time difficulty. It also grants a limited about of rewinds, even though that seems sort of crazy in Daytona’s world. Online racing is present as well, and while it was fairly easy to find a game my opponents seemed to be better at teleporting than racing, though I concede my Internet connection may have been to blame. The most robust bonus is a challenge mode with thirty different trials. I did find myself wishing all of the challenges, which include things like overtaking cars or not hitting walls, were all immediately selectable rather than having to beat one to unlock the next, though.
Two other new modes were short lived, but none the less impressive. Adding a survival mode to a game that was already about beating the clock seems a little odd, but it’s actually handled well. You’re still against the clock, but completing unspoken objectives like drifting, overtaking other drivers, crashing cones, and drifting can all add seconds to your clock. The other mode is in game Karaoke. Yeah, you read that right; karaoke. As in the words to Daytona’s ridiculous(ly awesome) soundtrack flying across the screen until the race ends with the song. It’s incredibly silly, but gives credence Sega actually understanding their audience, and delivering an extra fans would undoubtedly find adorable.
Fully digested, Daytona does feel a bit light on content. Two cars – manual and automatic – and three tracks don’t leave a whole lot of space for extra laps. I have no idea what the hell else this port could have included, maybe a Fighters MegaMix demo with Hornet versus Hornet, so it’s more the nature of reprising a relic than a fault in content.