Publisher: Raw Thrills Inc. / Nintendo
Release: December 2016
Players: 1-8, simultaneous via network link
Hardware: PC with a custom I/O board
ARCADE EXCLUSIVE?: Yes
Rating: Green Label – Suitable for all ages
Synopsis: The iconic arcade racing series is back, but does it live up to the legacy?
If you spent any time at an arcade through the 1990’s, then the chances are that you are very familiar with the Cruis’n series of games. Created through a partnership of Midway and Nintendo, Cruis’n USA was initially used to tout the upcoming Nintendo 64 (known at the time as the Ultra 64). This wasn’t correct though, as the hardware used in the N64 was completely different from the arcade model, but that’s a digression. Suffice it to say, the game instantly found popularity among operators and gamers alike, giving Midway their own signature racing series to compete against the behemoth that was Sega at the time. This continued on through 2000, with sequels like Cruis’n World and Exotica, each game building upon the formula that the first title established and going more over-the-top with it as they could manage.
The market went without an official Cruis’n game for a long time after Exotica was released, but Raw Thrills did fill in the gap with the Fast & Furious games. The Cruis’n series was produced by Eugene Jarvis, so when he and some of the other ex-Midway alumni built Raw Thrills, it was only natural for them to apply the same ideas to their first racing efforts. The Fast & The Furious was released in 2004, playing much like a Cruis’n game, but now with a hot movie license. The FnF series did really well for Raw Thrills, helping establish them as the contender that they are today, but after Super Cars and Super Bikes came along, it was time for them to reach into the past and resurrect the racer that had influenced the genre since the mid-90s.
Initially tested as Cruis’n Adventure, then Cruis’n Redline, the game experimented with some features like a card dispenser, until ditching that in favor for the design that was launched at the end of 2016. This stuck to what made Cruis’n popular in the first place, namely the focus on fast cars with crazy, fantasy-based courses, and nail-biting finishes. Instead of closed-circuit courses and racing laps like many other racers do, Blast keeps the tradition of the open-circuit style of a winding road with some shortcuts, hitting checkpoints every now and then until you reach the finish line.
In Blast, they really played up the fantasy elements, as opposed to trying to be a simulator. Stunts had been a thing for the series since World, so you come across a variety of in-game situations that allow you to benefit from that. Death Valley has a point where an earthquake causes a big fissure in the ground, giving you the opportunity to jump and spin your car, or you have to outrace the ferris wheel in London that comes off the hinges. There are plenty of times where you also get to smash through objects – glass windows, fruit stands, cows, carnival parade floats, stone structures, etc. – that explode with plenty of satisfying ‘viscera’ (not in any blood sense…just broken, shattered elements). Since collisions with such objects don’t affect the speed nor direction of your car, it becomes part of the fun.
After you coin-up, you are presented with five tracks to chose from. This is a departure from both the Cruis’n & the FnF games, which had quite a bit more to go back to. While casual players don’t really seem to notice, this is a point of contention that more serious players raise about this title. As a comparison, both CUSA & World had fourteen tracks; Exotica had twelve. The FnF games got as high as twenty-seven with Super Cars. Granted, a lot of racers out there only have a few tracks, such as Daytona USA which only had three. Still, it would have been nice to get up to ten or so, even with an update down the road to add more. Mr. Jarvis did muse about the possibility of adding more tracks when I interviewed him about the game a few years ago, but so far that has not materialized.
After you pick a track, then it’s time to pick a car. Cruis’n is known for allowing you to race with real-world exotic vehicles, licensed from their respective manufacturers. This includes the likes of GM & Nissan; the game did have the Lamborghini license, but this apparently expired at the beginning of 2020. For any units sold after February 2020 and sport the v2.08 update, it shifted focus to more classic cars. If you come across a Blast with a Lamborghini, then you know it’s running the older software. The company also included some silly cars that you can access by pressing the Tunes button during the selection screen, including a Triceratops, a helicopter, a cop car and more.
When you select the car, you can easily change colors; you also get the opportunity to select an upgrade to the N2O Boost, body, engine, and paint job (which oddly does improve the stats of the car, but no one is complaining). At this point, the game will then take your photo, which is used as an avatar for the rest of the game.
Unfortunately, the stat differences listed don’t really affect all that much. Every car sounds the same, handles the same, and once you max out the upgrades, don’t really hold any kind of advantage over another. This is another thing that services the casual player, but not so much the seasoned one.
Driving in the game shouldn’t be thought of as a racing sim, since the game just wasn’t going for that. As such, the way things play are very forgiving – if you crash into a side wall, the game will correct your path, keeping you with the action without missing much of a beat. They did this so that the game would work for all skill levels, but if you wanted to goof around and drive the course backwards, that ain’t happening here.
The game does detect whether or not the gas is being pressed; if not, it applies gas for you. One test on racing game quality that I like to do is see what happens if you start a game, then just do the bare minimum – or nothing at all – and see how much of the race the the computer does for you. In Cruis’n’s case, it is partial, but not total. If you barely try, then you’ll land in the 8th-10th place. If you do try though, the rubber-banding effect can feel a little odd near the end of the race, as one can use the N2O boost, and it doesn’t appear to truly give you that big advantage over the AI cars. In that, it can feel like just a fancy, albeit meaningless effect, like double-tapping the gas.
It’s also worth noting that there is a PIN system, replete with keypad, that you can use to create a profile. This saves your progress to a degree and allows you to enter in a name that’s attached to the photo other than “Player 1.” Unfortunately, most people don’t use it (by my observations of owning the game for 3+ years). I do wish that they would have kept the card system, as I think that would have been a great way to bring people back for collecting the car cards.
Speaking of changes, there are a few that I can understand why they were removed, but I think that the game is worse off for it. They removed the brake pedal since people rarely use the brakes in an arcade racer, but that changed out pulling off the tricks worked & felt. The tricks were more satisfying to do in FnF Super Cars than in Cruis’n Blast. You can still drift (drifting also builds your boost meter), and do a few other tricks, but with a brake, it seemed better to me to pull those off. They also removed the manual transmission, which did cause many customers to ask me if I had a game with a stick shift for a while. It can be irritating from an operator point of view, to have stick shifters that people abuse, but the shifter is also something that helps set an arcade racer apart from a racer on your phone or console. There also seem to be fewer shortcuts in the tracks for this than any of the FnF games had, which means less exploring on repeat plays.
They also removed some of the “personality” from the game. This includes the digitized flag girl and the cheering crowds. Oddly enough, I think that the option was going to be there, as you can go into the menu for Crusi’n to turn girls on/off, but no matter which setting, nothing happens. Likewise there is no President-in-a-hot-tub scene at the end of your run or anything like that; No map of the USA or the world to travel across (granted, Exotica didn’t have that either). These are little things, but you do notice them.
Now onto the ratings and what my recommendation is:
Cruis’n Blast is a very nice game to look at. One thing that was becoming stagnant with the Fast & Furious series that Raw Thrills had been producing in the run-up to this, were the graphics. Fortunately, the company took the engine that they created for Jurassic Park Arcade, and tailored it for the needs of this particular game, and it shows. Compared to FnF, the lighting system is in an entirely different universe, textures are more detailed and crisp, the use of color makes for a vibrant game, and it’s running at 1080p@60FPS. The frame rate is locked into place, making for a silky smooth experience. The graphics also appear to use anti-aliasing, so no jagged edges that stick out like a sore thumb. The particle effects are top notch throughout the game, including sparks, smoke, and boosting effects. The animations are well-done, although you can tell where they re-used things from Jurassic Park ;). Perhaps the best part of the look of the game is what happens when you crash through something – the effects are very satisfying, adding to the whole “Blast” of the title. This is particularly noticeable when you smash through the window at the end of any course in first place. I still see people complaining that it doesn’t look like Forza…it wasn’t aiming for that and didn’t have anywhere near a Forza budget, so I don’t consider that to be a strong argument. All-in-all, two thumbs on on this aspect
The game comes with a 2.1ch sound system that conveys every sound effect with great clarity. All vehicles have a little ‘engine growl’ to them, although it sounds the same for every vehicle. There is a catchy theme song with vocals that plays during the attract mode and demo screens; Other in-game songs carry a similar energetic feel to it. The overall music mix is one of the better efforts from Raw Thrills…certainly a far cry from the brief loops of games like Aliens Armageddon. The sound effects are fine and in-game voices are crisp, so no complaints here either.
When it comes down to controlling your car, it’s a game that forgives and helps you if you need it. If you’ve got some skill, then you can focus efforts on drifting or pulling off tricks for air time. As mentioned above, the lack of a brake and shifter make it more approachable for casual gamers, although even in a super casual location like mine, I constantly had people (usually teenagers) as where they could find a racer with a shifter. As it is, anyone can enjoy the game and won’t feel like they are fighting the controls, so that’s a plus…there is force feedback too. Just don’t expect a full-blown simulator experience, as that’s not the audience being aimed for.
Cruis’n Blast comes in a unique partial cockpit style machine that is distinctive and quickly draws attention to itself. There is an arch that goes over the driver’s head, and has a window in the back with a huge Nintendo logo on it. This adds to the “I’m inside a car” feel to the game that you don’t get with “open” racers. The use of LED lighting, including LED T-molding and LED spotlights will draw attention to the game no matter what location it is placed in. The wheel in the back looks really nice with the chrome highlights & animated LEDs, really completing the effect.
The only problem I have with the cabinet is that the seat has no way of moving forward or back. While that’s fine for operators(who don’t have to worry about the seat slider breaking), it’s detrimental to users who are accustomed to the feature. The right hand side of the dashboard is also a little odd in that it’s just empty space, with no art or lighting. That’s a minor issue though, solvable with a sticker. The cabinet also has metal plating around the feet, and sideart that carries the same “feel” of the Cruis’n games of old. I have seen Dave & Busters add some nice seat covers to this one, which I’m guessing they had specially made for all of their locations.
As a note, UNIS released a motion version of this for use in China-only. It is unknown if there are any course or vehicle differences on this. I’ve never even seen it show up tucked away at a trade show. Fortunately, the standard game is very common, so if you want to play it, you won’t have to search very far.
Cruis’n Blast is all about spectacle and it does an admirable job at giving that to the player. It’s a game made for casual players and it shows. It’s flashy, the graphics are smooth and vibrant, the music is catchy and overall it’s fun for a jaunt or two. It is fun to race, especially against an opponent; It is wholly satisfying to smash through the glass at the end of the course when you get first.
Cruis’n fans are going to miss the personality that it’s predecessors had though, including the lack of having a national or international course that the tracks themselves are attached to (i.e., the road trip map like Cruis’n USA had). At least the goofy vehicles are still there, so you know it’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I also have to fault it for having diminished replayability thanks to a small track selection, fewer shortcuts found on the tracks and little difference between cars other than aesthetics.
We’ll separate this into two: Recommended for Operators, Recommended for Gamers.
Operators: In my experience as an operator, I have owned a pair of Cruis’n Blasts since January 2017 and it has almost always been my #1 game in my venue. It has beat out other new racing & light-gun games, as well as NBA Hoops and the instant prize redemption games on location. As such, I might have issues with it as a gamer, but as an operator, I wouldn’t be without it. Just note that my location attracts a lot of casual players, so if your does not, then it may not perform as well as I’ve seen. The game also links up to 8 units, although I’ve never seen more than 4-linked. It is also an arcade exclusive; I do see a lot of port begging on it, but like most RT games, there is no worry about a home conversion to the Switch – for now.
Gamers: If you aren’t super serious about your racing games and don’t care about simulation, then you’ll get a kick out of this. It’s also a great game to play with kids, who can still have fun without needing to reach the foot pedal. If you do prefer more realism in your racer, then there just isn’t enough here to keep you interested.
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