Cruis’n Blast takes me back to the year 2010. It was a simpler time; in many ways, a better time. It wasn’t that long ago, but after the last few years, it feels a world away — and thus Cruis’n Blast providing me with the opportunity to escape back there, even for a brief moment, is very welcome indeed.
The year 2010 was simultaneously one of the best and worst for arcade-style racing games. While it was a year that provided us with both Bizarre Creations’ excellent Blur (published by Activision) and Black Rock Studio’s equally outstanding Split/Second Velocity (published by Disney), neither of those games sold to their respective publishers’ satisfaction and, as a result, both developers ended up being shuttered.
It was a symptom of a games industry that was growing into a monster: a business that cared less about creativity and overall game quality and more about sales figures and financials. Both Blur and Split/Second were lauded by press and public alike, and yet because neither of them reached an arbitrarily set sales forecast, they ended up being the final nail in the coffin not only for their respective developers, but seemingly for the entire arcade racing genre, too.
In the intervening decade, developers and publishers have occasionally made tentative steps back towards a return to deliberately unrealistic, over-the-top arcade racing rather than the fashionable (and profitable) “real racing simulator” approach taken by titles such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. But, aside from a few bold attempts from the indie sector — the unusual and enjoyable Inertial Drift being one of the most noteworthy in recent times — we really haven’t seen much from the genre ever since we bid a fond but reluctant farewell to it more than ten years ago.
As we all know by this point, Nintendo cares not for trends and conventions in the same way as other publishers do. And as such, here we are in September of 2021 with a brand new arcade racer in the form of Cruis’n Blast, developed and published by Raw Thrills and licensed by Nintendo. And you know what — it’s one of the finest arcade racers I’ve had the pleasure of playing for a very long time indeed, and a suitable successor to Blur and Split/Second’s proud legacies in more ways than one.
Cruis’n Blast doesn’t waste any time attempting to contextualise its gameplay: you’re simply presented with the option of taking on the Cruis’n Tour mode, which consists of groups of four races; the original 2017 arcade version’s tracks; time trials on any of the tracks you’ve unlocked in the game; or a single race on any of those tracks.
There’s also split-screen multiplayer for up to four players on a single Switch, or local network play — oddly, there’s no online multiplayer, which seems like a curious omission in this day and age, but since this is a racer with a very strong “party” feel to it, it is likely to be at its most enjoyable when played alongside actual three-dimensional people anyway.
Regardless of which mode you pick, you initially have the opportunity of selecting from one of several different cars and customising its paint job. Each car has an experience level, determined by how much you’ve driven it; levelling up each car allows you to unlock visual customisation options such as decals, neon lighting and body kits as well as an engine upgrade. New cars can be purchased with in-game currency or unlocked by collecting hidden keys on each track, and in total there are a good amount of different vehicles to play with over the course of the game as a whole, including some absolutely bonkers ones like unicorns, helicopters and UFOs.
Before starting a race in Cruis’n Blast, you’re also able to spend some of your hard-earned on additional “Blast” boosts which can be used; without doing this, you’re still provided with three per race, so it’s not essential by any means, but if you do find yourself struggling, stocking up on extra Blasts beforehand can prove useful.
Once into the race proper, you’re presented with a brief flyby of the course followed by a dramatic countdown to the action beginning. There’s a boost start available by slamming down the gas the moment the light turns green, and once everyone’s underway things start to get really interesting.
Cruis’n Blast’s courses have roots in reality — each of them are loosely based on Death Valley, London, Singapore, Madagascar and and Rio de Janeiro, which are the courses from the arcade original — but the Tour mode in particular provides a variety of absolutely ridiculous twists on the formula, often incorporating dynamic scenery.
In one stage, for example, the course is under constant assault by giant yetis; another tour sees attack helicopters constantly blasting holes in things; others still simply have you crashing through floors and into giant chasms before finding yourself in unexpected locations.
The rollercoaster, thrill-ride nature of Cruis’n Blast coupled with the high speed it runs at actually gives something of an F-Zero feeling at times — particularly when you take into account the ability to double-tap the accelerator button and perform various special moves, some of which can be used to take out opponents, similar to the spin attack in games like F-Zero X.
Double-tapping the gas before hitting a jump allows you to perform a wheelie and subsequent backflip; drifting over a jump allows you to “helicopter” the car before landing; double-tapping the gas while turning allows you to flip up onto two wheels and perhaps barrel roll if you combine it with a jump. And, of course, if you wheelie while banging into the back of an opponent, you can just drive right on over their roof, which never gets old.
Success in Cruis’n Blast isn’t just about finding the perfect racing line; each course has numerous shortcuts to spot and take advantage of along the way, plus timing stunts and setting off Blasts allows you to take the lead at suitable opportunities. You’ll also want to make use of the excellent Drift mechanic; this operates as something of a blend between OutRun 2’s rather “loose”-feeling approach of slamming your car around corners and Mario Kart’s ability to charge up a boost with long drifts.
If all this sounds rather chaotic, it absolutely, definitely is. This is a game where you’ll be gleefully crashing through scenery and slamming into your opponents at every opportunity rather than driving in any way politely — and I absolutely love it.
Presentation-wise, Cruis’n Blast is excellent, running at a fair old clip and a mostly consistent 60fps on Switch in docked mode. The graphics aren’t super-detailed, but the exaggerated style works well in the context of the game and keeps things moving smoothly, which is the most important thing in a game like this. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is enormously varied and features some fantastic moments of old-school cheese — it very much feels like this side of things is paying particular homage to Sega legends like Daytona USA, and I am absolutely here for that.
If there’s one nitpick to be made, it’s that some of the races feel just a little too short; since most of them are point-to-point affairs rather than circuit-based races, some of them take less than a minute to clear, which sometimes feels like barely enough time for the competition to heat up. That said, learning how best to approach these very short races and still find time to come out on top — particularly on the harder difficulty levels — will keep you busy for a while, and the raucous silliness of split-screen multiplayer should definitely form part of your regular Switch party game lineup.
There’s definitely still a place for games like Cruis’n Blast in today’s world, and I’m grateful to Nintendo for taking a bit of a risk on putting this one out there. It may not be to everyone’s taste — particularly given its lack of online modes and unabashedly quick-fire “arcade” format — but for those of us who have been in mourning for Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studios for the past 11 years… well, it’s time to buckle up and have some fun once again.
Here’s hoping this does well enough to inspire a resurgence in the genre among more mainstream, high-profile developers. Maybe an OutRun 3, eh, Sega?
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