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With Forza Horizon 5 reminding everyone with an Xbox of the pure pleasure of the arcade-style driving game - pfft to the oh-so-real simulation scene and Big Yes to smashing through fences at 140 miles per hour, backwards, in a car worth a million dollars painted to look like a knackered Transformer - it’s a fine time indeed for Nintendo players to pick up something they might’ve missed until now.
Now, I’m not here to say that the Switch-exclusive Cruis’n Blast is in the same league as Playground Games’ exceptional open-world extravaganza. But if you’re a racing fan with fond memories of Daytona USA, SEGA Rally, Ridge Racer and the like - as I am - you’re going to want to rev on over to this neon-tinged beauty, which has flown under a few radars in 2021. Incredible really, given how delightfully disgusting its visuals are.
Watch the Cruis’n Blast release trailer below
Cruis’n Blast is the latest entry in the Cruis’n series - a franchise that began in 1994 with Midway’s Cruis’n USA in arcades, later ported to the Nintendo 64, and was dormant between 2007’s release of the wretched Cruis’n on Wii and Blast’s arrival in arcades in 2017. The Switch version of Blast - out now, and at the time of writing on sale, too - includes the five over-the-top tracks of the arcade game alongside enough extras to ensure a decent degree of longevity.
Foremost amongst these modes is the Cruis’n Tour, which gives you six sets of four consecutive races set around a theme - under the cover of night, through stormy conditions, avoiding yetis and dinosaurs, that sort of thing. It’s very Mario Kart in style - right down to the suspiciously familiar spinning trophy screen at the end of each Tour - and the boosts you can use in-race, including building up a burst of energy with a slippin’ and slidin’ drift, will feel comfortable to fans of the Mushroom Kingdom’s most furious motorised pursuits.
Also available are time trials (they do what they say on the tin) and four-player local split-screen - better on the TV rather than on the Switch in tabletop mode given the frenetic carnage that quickly unfolds in each race. There’s no online multiplayer but if you have a pal with a Switch and a copy of the game, you can compete locally against one another on your own devices - how very handheld gaming in the 1990s. The game’s difficulty can be adjusted, but whatever your performance on the track, every little thing adds up to experience, money and, ultimately, upgrades.
You don’t level up as a player in Cruis’n Blast. Instead, whatever vehicle you pick begins at level one and with a default look to it, and the more you compete with that choice, the more you can add to it: neon trims, a beefy bodykit, horrendous decals. Alongside these adornments, it’s the rising experience levels of each motor that sees their speed, acceleration and other stats increase. The higher your finish in a race, the more experience you bank; and the more stunts you perform while on the track, as well as Burnout-style slow-mo takedowns of other racers and air time you catch off each course’s many jumps, the more money you take away. That money can buy extra nitros for the next race, unlock other cars on the selection screen, pay for those aesthetic upgrades, and more. Basically, the more you race, the more you earn, the better you get, and the more fun you have. It’s a simple but effective gameplay loop that makes repeating tracks totally bearable.
The blinding paint jobs on the cars, all lights-catching metallics in garish shades, are one thing - the locations you race in, quite another. While the game says you’re off to London, Rio de Janeiro or Singapore, these are theme park interpretations of the real thing, genuine joy rides through a cavalcade of close calls and eye-popping spectacle. Whereas the Forza Horizon games match fun-times-first handling with photo-realistic environments, Blast takes the complete opposite approach, sending you off to pop wheelies through landscapes that never stop moving in wholly unbelievable ways. A postcard from these getaways would set fire to any mail truck dumb enough to pick it up.
In London you’ll begin beside Tower Bridge and swiftly drift along the South Bank smashing red phone boxes and market stalls aplenty looking for on-track collectibles. Before you know it, the London Eye is rolling through the English capital, shedding capsules as it goes, and you’re tearing across the top of a commuter train before just avoiding a catastrophic collision with an overground Underground service. In Death Valley, a twister wreaks havoc, lifting a freight train with it, before a faultline tears open before you, sending you spinning towards the finish line. It’s consistently breathtaking stuff, even on the tenth time around.
Which is to say that it’s all very, very silly, long before you get to some of the more bizarre unlockable vehicles - there’s a helicopter, a tank, a UFO… and a triceratops and a hammerhead shark. You’ve not really lived ‘til you’ve seen flames shoot out from the ends of a massive pair of fish flippers, have you? And it’s all boisterous laughs set to a soundtrack of energetic earworms (that title theme, get out of my head, uh); an unashamed celebration of a breed of game that many a player will have assumed died out yonks ago. Indeed, if the year was 2001, we’d be talking about Cruis’n Blast in racer of the year terms, alongside the likes of Project Gotham Racing. In 2021, just as was the case when it hit arcades in 2017, its disorientingly dazzling palette can’t mask its archaic foundations - but the more rickety the rollercoaster, the more thrilling the ride.
Cruis’n Blast is out now for Nintendo Switch. Code for this coverage was provided by the game’s publisher, Raw Thrills.
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