Cruis'n USA/World/Exotica (1996)

Cruis'n USA/World/Exotica (1996)

Cruis’n USA

Starting off with the first game in the series, Cruis’n USA, the game that launched a very odd but ultimately enjoyable series, it was really interesting going back and playing through the first game. I originally remember the game due to its weird and very linear style of arcade racing. Arcade Racing is a genre all its own, where the sole goal is to race as fast as you can from point A to point B with reckless abandon. The only real concern is avoiding the traffic and staying on the road. The turning and physics of the game are very loose and unrealistic. A simple turn of the analog stick sends the car into a 90 degree turn.

Even if the controls are bizarre compared to a more modern and simulation style approach, I think the real thing is the actual idea and premise of the game itself. With Cruis’n USA the whole game is based on real world locations in the United States. Being able to drive through the states and race from Coast To Coast is a really interesting idea, one that Ubisoft revisited in their “The Crew” series. As I streamed the game I noticed something I didn’t ever before. The majority of the game’s ten tracks take place in California. Dedicating so many tracks in a game about the USA to a single state really feels like a bias and doesn’t offer the same amount of creativity.

I lamented the fact while playing through the game that the series itself has such an interesting premise and could be rebooted with a much more interesting storyline and more gameplay mechanics than just simple racing. Maybe I should write an article about how I would reboot the series would be fun? Either way, the game itself is solid and a fun short game. Racing to the end and ending up in Washington DC with an unlockable car sitting on top of the White House is pretty cool.

Cruis’n World

The most I remember of Cruis’n World is the theme song. With that catchy song intro it opens up the game to a wider course selection and instead of racing across the United States, the new campaign now features a selection of tracks from around the globe. Taking the original premise and expanding to the entire planet is a bold move but I think it pays off well enough.

Not much changes from the original game, it’s just a straight up sequel, “bigger and better” for the most part. Expanding the car selection to feature a wider range of vehicles and offering more stunts for time bonuses (which I never fully understood), made the game feel like it was trying to broaden the scope of the game not just in locations but things to offer the player. Ultimately I did have a worse time with the game though, mostly due to the difficulty in the game.

For whatever reason, the difficulty of Cruis’n World felt completely off. Even though I had the game’s difficulty mode set to “Easy” and “Beginner” I struggled to even reach 3rd place in nearly every single race of the game's fourteen tracks. I’d constantly have the AI be in front of me no matter how many turbos and stunts I performed. Just holding down the accelerator and playing the game like a boring arcade racing game was easier to handle, but not by much. I’m not sure if the game’s difficulty setting was/is broken, but I saw no difference between Easy and Expert mode. Even the game’s level difficulty felt out of whack as some courses that were the hardest were labeled “Easy” and the one I did manage to get first in was labeled “Expert”.

Other than the difficulty of World, I did find the game’s unique vision for the courses to be pretty interesting. Going with a very stereotypical view of each location, such as Kenya being all Safari landscape with galloping giraffes. Or Russia’s Red Square and Stars, the Florida everglades… It all really works to create a very simple and easy to distinguish appearance for each course in the game.

Cruis’n Exotica
Cruis’n Exotica is the only game in the series I barely remember, mostly because of the silliness factor of it. Where do you take a series that focuses on the United States for the first game, then the World for the second game, next? The third game continues on with the world tracks, now with Japan, China, India and even Ireland for most of the tracks. But there are a few odd standouts, and it’s these odd tracks I remember. Racing underwater in Atlantis, or the amazon filled with Dinosaurs or the ending track that has a race on Mars that ends in a futuristic alien city. It’s all just a bit too bizarre for my tastes.

I think however, that the redefined controls really do help me enjoy the game much more. It feels like a proper console racing game with an emphasis on Arcade style racing as opposed to being a straight up port. The physics and weight and acceleration are all still very stylized and weird, but it feels much more aligned to make it cohesive. The graphics also have swapped from being fully digitized to playing more in line with the flat polygon textures of the console.

The game’s difficulty is also tweaked, this time to make it more aligned with its named settings. Easy is easy, Hard is hard. While I think the tracks are the worst of the series, I will say Holland and Ireland are both standouts that make it beautiful and serene, the controls make the game the best playing in the series.

It’s odd that this series has been dormant for over twenty years and only saw a release of a new Arcade game back in 2017 and a port to the Switch in 2021. When I played the Switch port of the new game, called Cruis’n Blast, I really didn’t care for it. It felt way too basic and like I had very little to do other than hold the accelerator. It even leaned way more into the goofy totally unrealistic side, as one of the “cars” was a helicopter, or even a T-Rex. I thought it was just stupid at that point.

I’d be happy for the series to return with a reboot that has a solid storyline and more game mechanics that sees a race across the United States again. But that idea seems like it could be a different article that I could write… or even a video perhaps?