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Cruis'n USA

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Reviewed by Scott McCall Cruis'n USA, designed by Eugene Jarvis of Defender and Robotron fame, was the "other" so-called Nintendo Ultra 64 game released to the arcades in 1994. Unlike Killer Instinct, which at least had a 64-bit CPU, Cruis'n USA was developed on a 32-bit Williams arcade board. Two years later, hot on the heels of the spectacular Killer Instinct Gold, comes that "other" game. Although Nintendo made no mention that Cruis'n USA would be a sequel or even upgraded on the Nintendo 64, we at least assumed that we would have a fast and smooth port of the arcade without any pop-up. Wrong. But, hey, at least they gave us a pretty cool two-player mode. From the very first moment you turn on Cruis'n USA, you know that you're not going to get a Killer Instinct Gold-caliber port. The cheesy music (yes, it's even chessier than the arcade) doesn't bode well for the aural aspects of the game. The first immediate strike against Cruis'n USA is the extremely confusing setup. Most gamers will probably press "B" for options before they choose a location to save the game. Wrong move. If you want your configuration to be saved, then you'll have to press start first and pick a memory location (either on the Game Pak or on a Controller Pak) for your game. After that, you can press B for options so it will save your controller configuration. This reviewer and his friend wasted a good 10 minutes trying to figure this out. And I thought video games didn't have confusing setup programs like the PC. The next problem is that you can only race on US 101 until you choose "Cruise the USA" and race across the whole country first. The extremely unbalanced nature of level layout means you have to go through Redwood Forest as the fourth level in the game and Beverly Hills as the fifth level. This can be extremely frustrating for inexperienced drivers who are trying to take the 14-level trek across the U.S. Control in Cruis'n USA is odd to say the least. You do have your choice between the digital Control Pad or analog Control Stick. Even the most staunch digital Control Pad players may want to use the analog Control Stick this time around. In the options mode, each player can set the sensitivity of the control. But if you set it too low, then you won't be able to make some of the sharp turns in the game. On top of that, the control is touchier in the two-player mode than it is in the one-player mode of the game. The button configuration is also extremely odd. The default configuration sets Z as the gas and L or R on top of the controller as the brake. You'd definitely be doing yourself a favor if you changed the button configuration. As a plus, you can define any button or any direction on the stick or pad to perform the different functions of the game. You have to set shifting, braking, gas, displays, view and radio. Cruis'n USA also presents you with a multitude of gameplay options, which is most certainly a good thing. You can change the music and/or sound effect volumes, two-player sound (whether sound effects come out of both speakers, or if the player's sounds will be sent to the individual speakers), difficulty (five different levels, from very easy to very hard), racers (how many computer opponents you want on the track at once, up to 9), traffic (if you want to race with the oncoming traffic or not), metric (KPH or MPH) and center screen (Williams' games seem to have this feature). The Nintendo 64 version of Cruis'n USA does contain a few improvements over the arcade version. First of all, there's a two-player mode. You can even race with a friend against the computer in the "Cruise the USA" segment. You also get faster cars, which are of a different color, in the game when you complete it on the very easy, medium or very hard levels of difficulty. The other very nice improvement is the save feature. The game saves all of the records for each level. You can also have independent save game slots that save the person's initials and their default controller configuration. It also saves all of the cars you got. Finally, the game saves your progress in both the one- and two-player modes in the 14-course "Cruise the USA" trek. The graphics in Cruis'n USA are quite lackluster. They're a straight port of a 32-bit arcade game that is two years old. The digitized graphics are neat, but when you factor in the excessive pop-up in the Nintendo 64 game and the choppy frame rate in the two-player mode, you have to wonder what happened. Sure, the graphics are arcade-perfect in that respect, but why is there a ton of pop-up and a choppy frame rate in the two-player on a 64-bit system? Well, at least the game moves at a quick (albeit choppy) pace. As bad as the graphics are in the N64 version of Cruis'n USA, the sound is even worse -- as hard as that may be to believe. The "Cruis'n, yeah, Cruis'n USA...yeah" music during the track selection screen may give you some hope for the music in this game, but it quickly goes downhill from there. Some of the music sounds identical to the arcade, which wasn't good to begin with, but most of the musical tracks are terribly composed. I can name at least 50 Super NES games that have better music. And worse yet, I can name some 8-bit NES games that have better music. As always, the sound rating is composed of both music AND sound effects. The only thing that brings Cruis'n USA's sound rating up to a respectable level is the arcade-perfect voice and engine noises. There's actually quite a bit of voice in the game, which helps improve the experience somewhat. There's even some new voice not in the arcade game such as "Two-Player Challenge!" There's no sense making a list of improvements to this game because everything needs to be improved: graphics, sound, control, interface...everything. The only redeeming part of Cruis'n USA is the fun gameplay, especially with two-players. Fortunately, the sequel, Cruis'n World, looks to be pretty good with multiple paths, better graphics, less pop-up and a smoother frame rate. Hopefully that game will appear on the N64 with a respectable showing. Unless you're a die-hard fan of the arcade version -- and I do mean a die-hard fan -- then you'd be much better off staying far away from this game. Even then you might want to rent the game before you blow $60 or $70. If you can get past the horrible aesthetics and tricky control, then you might actually have quite a bit of fun with this game -- that is, only if you can find a friend that likes the arcade game as much as you.

Graphics: 3.0 out of 5 Sound: 2.7 out of 5 Control: 3.4 out of 5 Gameplay: 3.3 out of 5 Lastability: 3.5 out of 5 Overall: 3.3 out of 5

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