Any arcade or Sega fan should know of Daytona USA in some way. It's one of the best arcade racing games ever made in many people's opinion, and will probably remain to be. However, I'd bet it wouldn't be quite as well known if it weren't for it's many ports, 7 in total, the most recent being the PSN and Xbox Live Arcade version. Today however, I'm looking at the very first one, the Sega Saturn port, the very first one made. Is it up to scratch and a good conversion? Well let's pop the disc in the Saturn and find out.
Immediately you can tell that graphically, the game has taken a massive hit, as the Saturn obviously has nowhere near the power of the Model 2 arcade board. The polygon textures are notably more pixelated than the arcade, as the Saturn can't do texture filtering. Another thing is that the infamous pop-in is already apparent. Finally, the silky smooth framerate of the arcade, at 60fps, is sadly gone. The Saturn version chugs along at barely 20fps, and since this is the PAL edition, it's closer to 15fps. While it is to be expected, this is bad when you consider that Sega Rally, which was 30fps, was just over a few months away, and Ridge Racer on the PS1 (also 30fps) deservedly put the game in it's place when it was released. However, this is just first impressions. We haven't gotten into the actual game yet, so let's get going.
Upon pressing start you are given a multitude of features exclusive to the Saturn version. Although there isn't a 2 player mode, which the PAL box even says there is (!), I can't blame AM2 for not adding one, they were under time constraints. Before we get into the Arcade and Saturn modes, there are also the records of your best times for each track, and the options giving you access to 2 Saturn exclusive game modes, Grand Prix and Endurance, which basically alter the lap counts, difficulty level and enemy level adjustments previously not accessible to the general public in the arcade version, and your usual sound tests, sound mode, and controller configuration for different button layouts.
Back to the menu, like I said before, we are given a choice of Arcade or Saturn mode. The arcade mode is exactly what it says on the tin- the original arcade game, in every way converted to the Saturn, nothing more, nothing less. While I can often get better times on the arcade mode, I feel like the timer takes away the element of racing against the other cars, as you're then racing against the clock. Thankfully, the Saturn mode rectifies this, and also offers other additions, which we will get into later. For now, let's talk about the gameplay.
Starting either mode up, we are given a choice of Automatic or Manual transmission. Automatic changes gears on how fast you are, so you'll have to depend on the brakes for slowing down, while Manual obviously lets you choose between the gears, at the expense of focusing on that more. You then get to pick one out of three tracks, the beginner being the Three Seven Speedway, a simple oval track based on various NASCAR circuits, the advanced being Dinosaur Canyon, of course a bit harder and not based on a real NASCAR track, and the Seaside Street Galaxy, even harder and having quite possibly the most awesome name for a race track ever. Graphics wise, they are unfortunately how they are presented in the attract mode: grainy, slow, and riddled with pop-in, quite possibly the worst in a racing game on the Saturn, which really isn't acceptable when you consider this is a first party Saturn game. But, like I said earlier, this is just the game's looks, and- hold on I still haven't talked about how it plays yet.
Daytona USA, on the Saturn, controls... great. The only quibble I have with the controls is that it can be a bit hard to switch gears using a regular Saturn pad. This obviously can lead to some pretty bad crashes, which not only make you lose time, visible damage, while not affecting gameplay, shows up on your car. That can be fixed by a pit stop, although doing so can make you go from 1st to 30th in a matter of seconds. Anyway, where was I, oh, basically, when you are using a Saturn steering wheel however, it is nigh on arcade perfect, something I can say with confidence having played the actual arcade version both in it's original cab and emulation. With the steering wheel, you can switch gears with ease, while changing views and accelerating at the same time. This goes for most Saturn racers as well, and if you can pick it up cheap, I can't recommend it enough.
The game has some lastability past mastering the game's courses. There is a secret Time Attack mode, accessed by holding start on the transmission select, And also more cars to learn in the Saturn mode, a few of which can be unlocked. Oh, and speaking of unlockables and playable... things, this game's hidden playable character is what I believe started a chain of frankly bizarre secret playable characters in AM2 Saturn ports. I am of course, talking about the horses.
To get these... strange unlockables, which are assets from the 3rd track, you must finish first in every race, which if I'm honest isn't really worth it. The horses have rather shite grip, and finishing first in each race, especially the expert race, is quite hard to pull off. Thankfully there is also a code you can put in to get them, and they are quite a interesting feature, so I'd recommend checking them out if you haven't.
Finally, we come to the music, and hoo boy this game. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, the composer and singer of all the music in the game, had already established himself as one of Sega's many good composers, being behind such tracks as Earth Frame G for G-Loc and various tunes for both Virtua Racing and OutRunners, really came into his own with this game. While I can't say they make me feel like racing, his music in this is catchy and instantly recognisable. Personal favorites of mine include The King Of Speed and Sky High, which in particular features such lyrical genius as 'I wanna Flyyyyyy, Sky Highhhh, let's goooo, togetherrrrr!'. The man even went to such trouble as re-record
the songs for the Saturn version, and as a result sound even better.
All in all, if you want what is in my opinion the most playable racer on the Saturn, then look no further than Daytona. While it does fall a bit short in the graphics compartment, if you think that's more important then go for it's second port, the Championship Circuit Edition, which from what I've heard has a more stable framerate and better graphics overall, although you are missing out on the original soundtrack which ended up being remixed, and slightly poorer controls as a result of the game's engine being a modified version of Sega Rally. Or if you want the best of both worlds just go for it's PSN and XBLA port, which is arcade perfect on all fronts. But, being rather cheap, Daytona should be one of your first purchases if you have a Saturn, it was one of mine.
So, finally, I give Daytona USA on the Saturn a 7.5 out of 10. See you next time folks.