I think I’m over-stimulated. In Cruis’n Blast, everything’s shinier than everything else. It’s all ‘everything all of the time’ with no respite.
Cars are flipping, barrel-rolling and boosting over huge jumps as a yeti pounds the ground below them, shattering the earth which falls away revealing a concealed underground route that just so happens to be angled perfectly to allow all the cars to continue racing at full speed.
UFOs fly overhead, dinosaurs chomp at smaller dinosaurs with cartoon sound effects, and my ride? My ride is a unicorn that I upgraded to have neon shoes. As for me, I can’t remember the last time I could wax lyrical over such a stunning home conversion of a true arcade racer. Yes, OK, I’m definitely over-stimulated.
After a succession of extremely disappointing Switch conversions, Nintendo’s tablet tech is firing on all cylinders here. The 2017 arcade cabinet is brought home in wonderful detail, with a high frame rate targeting 60fps, excellent texture quality and effects plus some gargantuan, sprawling horizons.
It’s superfast, utterly chaotic and yet so simple to control, virtually anyone will be able to play it. You can even set it to accelerate for you and just tilt the Switch to turn. It’s the most accessible racer since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and kids love it.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a fast-paced racing game with events lasting around 90 seconds, all set in larger-than-life versions of real places like London, Rio and Singapore. It’s the logical progression of N64’s Cruis’n Exotica, only with far greater detail and fluidity, plus a bit of San Francisco Rush 2049’s colour scheme and collectable-hunting thrown in. Not to mention Hydro Thunder’s penchant for giant set pieces.
It’ll also feel familiar in terms of gameplay to anyone who’s played Gameloft’s Asphalt 9 on mobile, Switch or now Xbox, but somehow Cruis’n Blast manages to make that game look slow and reserved. No, I don’t know how that’s possible either, but it absolutely does. You won’t just soak up the destruction, you’ll be completely saturated by this game’s aesthetic.
While I’m certainly excited about its triumphs, Cruis’n Blast is not a perfect experience by any means. In fact, the list of problems is damningly long. Obscene rubber-banding means you can sit on the start line for 20 seconds and still win if you have the skill. Takedowns performed on rival cars feel unsatisfyingly light, like the rivals cars aren’t actually being crushed at all, though you do get a slow-motion moment to enjoy the wheels coming off and spark effects filling the screen. This is usually coupled with physics objects splintering and flying about, but it only awards you a little post-race money – there’s no reward during gameplay for taking down your rivals, and they can’t even do the same to you. You are indestructible.
The car handling is certainly responsive, but it’s also rather lightweight, making the game feel a tad cheaper than it actually is. It feels like a plastic toy supercar and about as throwaway. Indeed, even though there are hidden keys to find to unlock bonus cars and a wealth of stunts to learn, I’d wager the game won’t have the decades-long lasting power of the sorts of games it’s trying to channel. You’ll feel like you’ve seen most of what it has to offer in the first hour, and that’s more accurate than you could possibly guess.
Unlocking each new difficulty tier just reveals the exact same championships to unlock all over again, and sometimes races are just the same track with a different theme on top. Sure, it’s just as spectacular to watch a dinosaur smash up the ground, but when the Yeti did the same just a few minutes ago, you start to see where the content is being stretched to fit, and the feeling only gets more pronounced.
There are at least plenty of hidden cars to unlock, and each one has five levels of XP to fill up, which opens up some basic mods for you to purchase. Whether you’re controlling an open-top Corvette, a helicopter or a triceratops (that’s not a typo), the game essentially feels the same to play. It’s ‘one note’, but in the same way a jet engine is ‘one note’.
The track design is great, allowing novices to bounce off the walls and still have fun, while providing secrets, shortcuts and drift chain opportunities for those who learn the intricacies of the controls. The environments are reminiscent of Excite Truck on Wii, albeit without player-triggered track deformation; it’s all set-pieces here. Still, there is always something to see, and it’s a feast for the eyes.
The sound design is perhaps a little below the graphical standard, as trackside physics objects don’t make the clattering sounds they probably should as you smash them into pieces, leaving you to mainly listen to the music and your engine, so there’s a slight feeling of detachment there. The main ‘Let’s go Cruis’n’ vocal theme also grates very quickly, but again it’s just an example of the game’s unashamed brashness. And yes, you will be singing along to it.
Finally, special mention has to go to the split-screen four-player mode, which somehow manages to run the full solo version’s tracks complete with dinosaurs, earthquakes, twisters and UFOs (but not AI bots or other road users) at around 20-35fps, sometimes even higher. It can get very choppy too, and the game feels simplified compared to single-player, relying far less on skill due to the very pronounced catch-up and basically coming down to who’s saved a nitro blast for the home straight.
Thankfully just witnessing a hammerhead shark twirling around down the side of an active volcano ahead of you is hilarious, as is an upside-down bus with a tiny spoiler taking the win, so rest assured there’s loads of fun to be had in split-screen.
Interestingly, one nine-year-old child I played it with said in complete seriousness that it is better than Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I wouldn’t go that far myself, but in terms of a sure-fire hit in a family multiplayer environment, you can’t really go wrong with Cruis’n Blast. If you’ve only got three players, then that’s arguably even better, as the frame rate holds up far better with only three screens to process, though without computer cars that does mean there’s 25 per cent less action to enjoy. Even playing solo, this game is an absolutely perfect for a gift for a child.
After the first four crazy hours, the next six or so can be spent unlocking all the cars then earning Gold on all the championships. This is actually very difficult on ‘Extreme’ difficulty, and the reward for doing so is a big fat nothing, except your own satisfaction, of course. All that’s left then is to upgrade every car to level five, which might take another five hours, unless you rinse four-player, as everyone earns XP and cash, therefore doing everything in a quarter of the time. There’s no online multiplayer, but local network play is available besides split-screen. ‘Light on content’ is the kind way to put it.
Cruis’n Blast is short, repetitive, shallow and doesn’t even let you stamp your name on a record time. But even having seen everything it has to offer short of upgrading every vehicle, I’m still playing it because it’s just so fun. Whether at full price now or in a sale later, you’re definitely going to enjoy Cruis’n Blast.
|14th September 2021
|Best played with
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.