A question that pops up often around these parts is where have all the arcade racers gone, and one answer, it turns out, is blindingly obvious; you can find them down at the arcade. Cruis’n Blast, which just launched this week, is part of that other seemingly endangered species, an arcade port that squeezes 2017’s gloriously overstated racer onto the Switch, and one that serves up the kind of garish, absurd outrageous entertainment so many of us pine for from our racing games.
Perhaps it’s something of a surprise to discover that bonafide arcade games even exist in this day and age, but should you ever be lucky enough to stumble upon one yourself you’ll see they’re largely propped up by one company alone: Raw Thrills, a small outfit operating out of Skokie, Illinois under the watchful eye of a certain Eugene Jarvis. That’ll be Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender and Robotron amongst other all-time classics, because while the video game world moved on from the smoky scrum of the arcade, Eugene decided to make it his lifelong home.
I’m telling you all this before I get to Cruis’n Blast’s outrageous arcade action, its race tracks stuffed with set-pieces that would make Fast & Furious blush and straddled by pairs of 50-foot yetis tearing chunks out of each other, because it seems kind of important to understand what exactly this is. This is the arcade racer emerging from the Galápagos isle of the arcade itself, the result of 30 years of isolated evolution, and a game that’s got louder, brasher, somehow more lurid still. What a wonder it is to behold!
Like the original Cruis’n USA, Blast is a point to point racer where the emphasis, quite simply, is on having fun. Overshoot a corner and you’ll scrape gracefully against the track extremities; shunt into an enemy and you’ll likely take them down in satisfying, spark-filled slo-motion, Burnout-style. There’s no real punishment for mistakes in Cruis’n Blast – it’s just about pushing you forward, and throwing absolutely everything it can at you in an attempt to elicit a smile.
And good god it works. I’d love to tell you about the tracks but I fear I’ll sound like a 8-year-old recounting the action flick their parents let them stay up late to watch last night. But anyway, here goes – you go to London and race across the top of a tube train before it collides with another, threading your way through the spokes of the London Eye as it freewheels across the city, its pods freeing themselves from the wheel and bouncing along the track. Go to Los Angeles and an oversized doughnut dislodges itself from a cafe and criss-crosses your path as you race from city to dockyard, inviting you to leap through its hole. Stampedes course across the jungle circuit, while often the track will give way beneath you during a death-defying jump, just so that your stomach might turn that little bit faster.
Subtle it is not, and it’s served up in a style you might call pleasantly disgusting, all eye-searing neon and shiny metal that swirls together until it feels like you’re playing a racer that’s been put through a deep dream filter. It’s a style that extends to each and every part of Cruis’n Blast, a racing game in which you can paint your car any colour you like as long as it’s a two tone chrome wrap, and whose unlockable vehicles include fire trucks, UFOs and unicorns.
It is, by its very nature, a slight thing too – the five tracks of the arcade original are bolstered by variations upon them that make up a series of six four race tours, gradually unlocked as you earn medals each time out. Each car has its own progression system too, unlocking upgrades and bulging body kits, while new cars are unlocked by collecting keys ferreted around each level. It is a reassuringly old-fashioned thing.
And while exuberance always wins out over elegance in Cruis’n Blast, there’s beauty at its core – the drift mechanic is enjoyably elastic, allowing you to cash in long languorous slides for a bit of extra boost power, the sense of speed is electric even in an event’s more pedestrian moments and the collisions, of which there are many, are suitably meaty.
You could argue there should be a mite more on offer for the asking price, and the lack of online multiplayer feels a little odd (though there is splitscreen as well as local multiplayer should you want to set up something a bit more intimate), but I’ve never felt particularly short-changed. Cruis’n Blast delivers up 90 second bursts of carnage and joy, delivered with the infectious energy that underpins so much of Jarvis’ work. Here’s an arcade racer that could only have been born in the arcade itself, and on the Switch it’s one of the most consistently entertaining examples of the form yet.