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July 2022

Cruis'n Blast

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Racing
Developer: Raw Thrills
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Cruis'n Blast'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 24, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The arcade hit Cruis'n Blast is speeding onto Nintendo Switch as you blast your way through nearly 30 over-the-top tracks.

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When the hype machine for the Nintendo 64 started, it did so in a rather unusual way. Going by the name of Ultra 64, Nintendo had partnered with Midway to release two games that were built with arcade technology. Killer Instinct was so popular that Nintendo decided to port it to the Super NES to take advantage of the hype. The other title was Cruis'n USA, a game that married what were then cutting-edge graphics with licensed cars and an over-the-top track design. The series spawned more than a few sequels, all of which were published and developed by different parties but all remained exclusive to Nintendo. In 2017, the last game in the series, Cruis'n Blast, was published and developed by Raw Thrills, one of the last arcade manufacturers. Few knew that the game existed, which made the announcement of a home version a big surprise to those who thought the series was dead. What may come as a bigger shock is the quality of the Switch version.

As one may surmise, Cruis'n Blast is an arcade racer in that you can have the gas held down the entire time without even grazing the brake button, and you'll be fine. There's no way to spin around and face the wrong way, and there's no chance of going completely off the tracks. The only way you can slow down is if you hit civilian cars from behind. Hitting some walls won't cause you to slow down, and hitting other walls causes them to break. Smack against a fellow racer from behind or on the side, and your speed reduction is minimal, as you'll likely cause them to crash instead.

The most important element of racing that the game nails down is the heightened sense of speed. By default, your chosen vehicle goes quite fast, but that ramps up whenever you hit one of the numerous speed boost pads or activate nitro. The trick system might seem easy to activate, since you have a dedicated drift button that gives a burst of speed, and tapping on either this or the accelerate button lets you pull off wheelies and twists from ramps, which also provide a bit of a boost. The ease with which you can use everything makes it so that you can spend almost all of your time in a boost if you can pull it off. The speed is thrilling, but the game ensures that you don't do so by losing control, so it takes some effort to activate a boost and have it go to waste by crashing into objects that can actually slow you down.

The game comes with a few modes, one of which is the original arcade mode. Pick a car, pick one of five tracks, and make your way to the finish line. The tracks are short, and while there are a number of shortcuts, don't expect many tight turns or tricky sections. To compensate for that, the game covers every track and a few collectibles in the form of keys and cash. A good example is the desert track, as you can take jumps that bring you sky-high but have you land safely on the ground without a speed loss. The calm landscape is suddenly interrupted with a tornado that breaks apart a train, and the hull of one of the train cars conveniently lands in front of you with enough space to pass through. Later on, you'll encounter an earthquake that swallows up a huge tract of land, forcing everyone to jump the gap via the newly formed ramp. None of these things make you fall behind in a race, but they are cool to look at, almost like triggering a gimmick in the old racer, Split/Second.

The cash and keys you get from the arcade and campaign modes unlock more vehicles for the roster. At first, you'll unlock a few licensed cars, like the 1950s Cadillac and a few generic vehicles, like an ATV. It doesn't take long before the game starts to go overboard. You may unlock a hovercraft, but you'll also get a unicorn, UFO, and hammerhead shark. It gets even more ridiculous when you realize that none of the sound effects change when you pick the unusual vehicles. Get a triceratops, and it'll be at the starting line shaking and emitting smoke as you rev up. It'll drift, spin in the air if you perform a trick on a ramp, and even produce flames with nitro. It's ridiculous, but it's what has endeared the series to fans.

Finishing a race also levels up your car, an element that the game adopted from some of the other arcade racers with integrated sim elements. Leveling a car not only does an automatic increase to their stats but also unlocks the ability to buy new cosmetics for them. All of the colors are there by default, but you unlock things like new bodies, engines, and even neon lights. In a way, it brings the series closer to Raw Thrills' other arcade series, The Fast and the Furious; it's ironic since that was the basis for the Wii version of Cruis'n all those years ago.

The only issue players may have with the vehicles is that the stats don't matter. For the most part, you can race with a level-one Hummer, and even though the stats for a level-five Hummer say that it's faster, you won't feel it at all. This holds true for every vehicle in the game. Racing with a Nissan 350Z is no different than racing with a motorcycle, and at any given moment, a fire truck feels just as fast as an attack chopper or a patrol vehicle. Like the specific vehicle unlocks, it feels like cosmetic choices rather than something tangible for more discerning racers.

The campaign mode takes you through six different cups, each with four races. Each cup is lenient enough in that you don't need to get gold trophies to finish and unlock most of the cups, but the final two want you to perfect everything before they are unlocked. The game boasts a high number of tracks, but a few of them are repeated. To overcome this, each cup has a theme that accentuates the flourishes. The first cup might start off rather benign with every track taking place in the rain, but it gets more involved after that, from having cops on the track to surviving a dinosaur rampage. The game's inherent silliness is amplified in the campaign, but that's also where the cheesy charm comes into play.

If you're a skilled racer, the only complaint you may have has to do with the campaign's overall difficulty. At the normal default difficulty, the game is a cakewalk until you reach the back half, where the car stats finally matter. Even then, learning to figure out when to boost usually takes care of things. You have to unlock the other higher difficulty levels, but it isn't until you reach the highest one that you'll feel like you need real skill and track knowledge to emerge victorious. Even then, it might not feel necessary since everything can be unlocked at any difficulty level, so only those who crave a challenge will replay the game after conquering the Normal difficulty.

Beyond the arcade and campaign modes, there are Single Race and Time Trials. The former is exactly what it sounds like, while the latter only has local leaderboards, so anyone looking for pseudo-online competition will be disappointed. The good news is that these two modes provide an opportunity to earn cash and level up your vehicles and give you a chance to continue hunting for keys to unlock everything, so there's some incentive to visit these often when you don't have the time or desire to replay the campaign specifically for those things.

If you crave multiplayer, then there's both good and bad news. The good news is that the game has split-screen for four players, where every unlocked car, track and flourish can be used by anyone. The game also features LAN play, which is always a nice touch if you are near those who also have a copy of the game. The bad news is that there's no online play, so those with friends who aren't willing to play a racing game that isn't kart-based will be out of luck.

The presentation works well, depending on your outlook. Players may point out a few places where the texture quality isn't up to snuff, and a few things may look odd, such as the static crowd when you take the podium, but there's always something going on in the game. The vehicles, both of the original and licensed variety, are modeled well, but some many take issue with how the cars are excessively shiny and reflective. The game aims for a constant 60fps, which helps greatly with the sense of speed, but things can get so crowded and busy that you'll occasionally see some frame rate dips. Move beyond the graphics, and you'll notice that the sound effects are very vibrant, except for the muffled sound whenever you pick up cash. The music is simultaneously too cheesy for the main menu but perfect for racing.

Cruis'n Blast is a very pleasant surprise for those who crave arcade racing over the simulation style. It nails the speed and the ease with which anyone can pick it up and play, thanks to a simplified control scheme and the easy AI difficulty in the early stages. Although the variety is superficial, there's a good variety of tracks here and plenty of oddball vehicles for players to unlock. One can argue that the game isn't deep, and dedicated players can get almost everything done in a day, but with pure arcade racing being gone for so long, you tend to forgive all of that when you're enjoying every moment.

Score: 8.0/10

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