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If you entered an arcade in the 90s, you were sure to find a racing game or two. Those gigantic machines that you’d sit in and feel the steering wheel in your hands; the gas pedal under your foot. For some of us who were still years away from driving a car in real life, arcade games like these were a serious thrill. And for those of you who were old enough to drive a car – say in 1994 when Daytona USA was released in the arcades – it was still a heart-pumping experience. Remember, the arcade was no place for realism. Blinkers – who needs ’em?
By the time Daytona rolled around (see what I did there?), Sega was no stranger to the arcade racer. They had already cut their teeth on such major hits as Out Run, and Virtua Racing. And while those are classics in their own right, Daytona USA felt in some ways like the culmination of the ideas that had originated with those games. It was the glorious sunshine and vibrant colors and intense speed of Out Run now viewed as polygons only far more easy on the eye than in Virtua Racing – the latter thanks to Sega’s new Model 2 arcade hardware. Plus… that theme song.
Being an arcade racing game, there’s not a whole lot of simulation to worry about here. You’re only controls to worry about beyond steering are Accelerate, Brake and Changing Gears (if playing with manual transmission instead of automatic). However, the drift mechanic in this game is the stuff of legend – and mastering it is a key to mastering the game, no doubt. Your goal is always to win the race within the allotted time limit.
The original arcade game supported linked arcade cabinets so that up to eight players could compete against each other side-by-side.
Daytona USA was first brought home to the Sega Saturn and PC in 1995. These were rather faithful ports although suffered from shorter draw distance than the arcade game and ran at a reduced frame rate compared to the solid 60 FPS that the arcade original boasted. They also unfortunately were limited to being single player experiences.
In 1996 the Saturn saw another edition of the game – Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition. This version ups the visuals and improves the frame rate while adding support for two-player split screen, two more tracks and eight new cars.
1996 also saw the release of Daytona USA Deluxe on PC. This version could support up to eight players and featured upgraded visuals and six courses rather than just the original three.
A third (!!!) version of the game was released for the Saturn in 1998. This one – dubbed the CCE Net Link Edition was the same as the Championship Circuit Edition but now included online play via the Saturn’s Net Link modem. In the years since it has become known as one of the rarest and most valuable games released as part of the Saturn’s US library thanks to scarcity and outright difficulty in identifying (the outer packaging is the same as the Championship Circuit Edition, with only text on the disc itself identifying it as the Net Link Edition).
The Dreamcast saw a version in 2001 which was essentially a remake. It featured all of the material from Championship Circuit Edition along with three more tracks (with all tracks playable in normal, reverse, mirrored or reverse-mirrored modes) as well as much improved visuals and draw distance. At launch it supported online multiplayer, but the servers have long since been shut down.
A port of the arcade was brought to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in 2011. This edition features a new widescreen HD presentation and online multiplayer for up to eight, though it does sacrifice all of the extra tracks and additions that the latter console ports had introduced.
Although Daytona USA has continued to be a major favorite to arcade racing fans – attested by the continued ports throughout the years – it has done little to continue as a series proper. There was one proper sequel – appropriately titled Daytona USA 2 in 1998 which appeared on Sega’s Model 3 arcade hardware. Unfortunately this has never been ported to any home consoles or computers. And Sega seems content to just continue re-releasing the original game on new hardware once in a while than to continue making new games in the series.
The main car (known as The Hornet) was featured as an unlockable character in the Saturn fighting game Fighters Megamix alongside a roster of Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers regulars. Seriously.
The Hornet also can be unlocked via the characters AGES in Sonic & All Star Racing Transformed, which is perhaps the closest we’ll get to see him in his own new racing game any time soon.
Join us in the forums this month to compare the many ports and share your challenges, techniques, and best times. Check out the discussion here.