Cruis'n Blast Is An Unapologetic, Enjoyable Arcade Racing Throwback
You'd be forgiven for not remembering the Cruis'n franchise. After all, it's been nearly a decade and a half since the last home entry for the series. However, those who do remember the arcade-racing franchise likely look back on the games fondly. Starting with 1994's Cruis'n USA, which launched in the arcades before getting ported to Nintendo 64 two years later, the series delivered nonstop thrills as you drove through several locales. Those raceways expanded beyond the scope of the United States with Cruis'n World and Cruis'n Exotica before the '90s came to a close.
However, the 21st century hasn't been kind to the Cruis'n franchise. Failed attempts to modernize the over-the-top racer spun out, as evidenced by 2001's poorly received Cruis'n Velocity on Game Boy Advance and 2007's abysmal Wii title, simply called Cruis'n. The franchise seemed doomed to share the same fate as many of the mall arcades where it got its start. That is, until 2017, when from seemingly nowhere, a new Cruis'n title appeared in surviving arcades.
Developed by Raw Thrills, a studio headed by industry luminary and original Cruis'n creator Eugene Jarvis, Cruis'n Blast effectively captures the spirit of those first games but modernizes the visuals and sense of speed to deliver something that feels nostalgic yet flashy. While I've enjoyed hopping into the arcade version for a race or two during casual trips to Dave & Buster's over the years, I've never devoted significant time to it. However, Cruis'n Blast finally received a home port exclusively on Switch last week, so I decided to check it out.
I'm pleased to say that this revival effectively captures the spirit of the Cruis'n franchise. A great sense of speed is just the beginning as you bump, blast, and boost through the game's vast array of beautiful tracks. The surfaces aren't the most detailed in any racing game, but what they lack in fidelity and resolution, they make up for in vibrancy. Around every corner is an eye-popping vista or a sparkling scene that begs you to divert your eyes from the road. Thankfully, the mechanics of Cruis'n Blast allow you to do just that with little consequence, as the title is all about keeping you moving forward. While this leads to a low-skill ceiling, the approachable gameplay leads to a fun pick-up-and-play experience while you learn the ropes en route to unlocking higher difficulties.
As fast-paced as Cruis'n Blast is, it's even more bombastic than any other game in the series' heyday. Roads crumble as you plummet from sky-scraping heights, tornadoes suck up scenery all around you, dinosaurs roam freely, trains derail, and aliens fly overhead as you race through the game's electric courses. On top of those major set-piece moments, you have other racers to compete with, as well as pursuing police officers. These other cars do little to impede your progress, and more serve as opportunities to create highlight-reel crashes as you ram them into the guardrails or obstacles. You can also launch yourself off ramps and use the satisfying drift mechanics to earn a free boost.
The concern with many arcade games when they come to platforms where you're not required to pump quarters into a cabinet with the difficulty cranked to 11 is how replayable it is in the new format. To combat the lack of content compared to other racing games, Cruis'n Blast on Switch adds a lot to the package. The original arcade version features just five tracks, but the Switch version ups that number to 29 courses (though some are re-used) and 23 vehicles. These vehicles range from licensed sports cars like Corvettes and GTRs to motorcycles, helicopters, fire trucks, UFOs, and even a unicorn. All the cars are upgradeable through cash earned during races, giving you a reason to go back and replay tracks.
However, even with these new additions, the offerings are relatively lean. You can play through the Tour circuits, which consist of four races, take part in time trials, or choose single races on any of the tracks you've unlocked. The point-A-to-point-B courses are diverse and largely exciting, full of those aforementioned set-piece moments, boost-granting jumps, and gold keys to collect, but many of the races are so short you don't even have time to fully fully fully enjoy them. On several occasions, I was shocked to see the countdown to the end of the track appear on my screen before the race had even hit the one-minute mark.
Perhaps the biggest boon to old-school Cruis'n fans is the ability to play splitscreen multiplayer with up to four people. If everyone wants their own screen, you can also play over local communication using up to four different consoles and copies of the game. Unfortunately, online multiplayer is not an option, which would add tremendously to the title's replayability.
Although the goalposts of how much content is expected in a video game have moved significantly in the time since the series' peak, Cruis'n Blast is an exciting and fun throwback to the arcade racers that helped define the genre in the '90s. While I don't anticipate pouring more than a few hours into the game solo, I am looking forward to having some friends over to participate in the mayhem.
Cruis'n Blast was released on Switch on September 14.