Review: Cruis’n USA (N64)

By Drew Wilson

Cruis’n USA is the first in a series of games that typically go under the “Cruis’n” banner. So, we check out how this series got started. We are reviewing the Nintendo 64 version of this game.

Released in 1996, this racing game was evidently a port from the arcade game from the same name which was released two years earlier. It would be the first iteration of the game series “Cruis’n” whose latest iteration as of this writing is “Cruis’n” for the Nintendo Wii.

The premise of this game is simply that there is a race that spans all the way across the USA. You can race on some of the courses in a single race or choose to “cruise the USA”. If the player elects to race in the latter mode, the player will get a chance to earn faster cars. Each car can be upgraded to a second level if the player wins in this mode. The second level car can be upgraded to a third level car if the player chooses to race in the medium difficulty and the best upgrade can be earned in the hardest difficulty.

One of the secrets of this game is the ability to race in three “secret” cars (the jeep, the school bus and the cop car). These can be upgraded just like normal cars.

The courses are set in various locations found across the US. This includes Golden Gate Park, Beverly Hills, The Grand Canyon and the Redwood Forest.

One of the features of this game is that you seemingly drive with a woman in the passenger seat who can either show her enthusiasm for the various landmarks as you speed past them or freak out when you are about to drive into a vehicle driving in the opposite direction.

Another feature is the dynamic characteristics of each course. In Death Valley, you can race a train to a crossroads. In Beverly Hills, you try and stay on the road or else you hit some coconut trees. Oh, and there’s plenty of breakables to drive through (which doesn’t slow your car down) so you can have fun as you litter the road with barrels and temporary barriers for your opponents.

Another notable aspect is the fact that can only advance in the races if you finish first. No other placement will do which can make some races more difficult in nature.

The courses difficulties are also well-earned. The race “USA 101” was rather easy with the four lanes while a course like Redwood Forest, which is mostly two lanes with lots of turns, can be frustratingly difficult at times especially when you are attempting to pass opponents.

One thing I did find odd was the weird physics of the game. For instance, taking an inside lane vs an outside lane yields little to no advantage while racing. One thing I didn’t like is that some jumps disrupts your ability to steer. In one particular jump towards the end of the race series, you lose all steering control for a moment even though your car has landed back on the road. It’s particularly frustrating because there is a turn right after – so you look like you just drove your car into the side of the road without trying to make that turn even though you are pushing on the controls to turn right. In addition, as odd as it sounds, there is literally no way you can drive in reverse. Just try. You’ll just get pushed further down the road instead.

Another thing that bugs me about this game is some of the upgrades for the cars. You are about to face a new level of difficulty to get the third upgrade and the second upgrade only increases your vehicles max speed by 1MPH (the school bus and the Jeep to be exact). This makes it so that even if you have a crash-free race in some tracks, you can still lose anyway. I can understand adding some difficulty if you are to the point of upgrading all the secret cars, but level 2 reward should be worth the trouble of beating the game with a secret car.

Considering this game was originally slated to be a release title when the N64 console was initially released, I can cut a little slack on the graphics. Having said that, while this is a 3D game, most of the graphics rely on 2D sprites. You knock over a redwood tree and you’ll see that the tree is 1 pixel thick. The details of the 2D textures are decent enough (some are actually, impressively enough, animated pictures of real people), but considering some of the other games released for the N64 at the time, you could understandably expect a bit more. Another note is that I don’t know what the trophy girl is doing every time you win the race. Is she dancing? Being excited that you won? I can’t really tell what that is to be honest. Another thing is that the course design itself seems to be made from building blocks more than actually designing the courses. There’s sharp left turns, soft right turns, jumps, etc., but if you pay enough attention, you’ll notice most “pieces” look exactly the same. This, unfortunately, adds a certain hint of “built cheap” to it to me.

The audio of this game, I thought, was good. The music was decent enough and varied enough to nicely reflect the level you are on (for instance, the music played as you race through Beverly Hills, I thought, was spot on) although I wasn’t sure why the track “Tubular Surf” was added into this game in the end because it sounded like there was going to be a beachside level, but that concept was later scrapped, but the music was already added – so the designers threw it in wherever for variety even though you were racing past corn fields. The sound effects were decent, although I thought it was odd that when you got up to speed, the sound of your engine vanishes. It didn’t detract from the gameplay per-se, but once you realize the engine sound vanishes, it really makes that aspect seem somewhat odd.

Overall, in spite of some points of contention, I thought this was a decent enough game. It had a nice sense of progression, had some good challenging tracks while not making the game too difficult to deter your average gamer. If you can get past the weird physics and the fact that most of the art in the game was 2D sprites, it’s actually not a bad game to play.


Furthest point in game: Upgraded all cars to maximum levels including all secret cars (this takes a while to accomplish, trust me)

General gameplay: 17/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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