Cruis’n Blast answers many of those age-old questions: what would happen if a fire truck raced a hammerhead shark? Could a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado outpace a unicorn? And can an arcade racer work on a console in the year 2021? The first two questions can be answered by cycling through the game’s wonderfully weird roster of unlockable vehicles, ranging from sensible and licensed (the Nissan GT-R) to the unabashedly strange (a unicorn). The answer to that last query is “yes” but with notable caveats, as the latest entry in the Cruis’n series makes the jump from cabinet to console with moderate success, but its fast-paced and frenetic action is undermined by some glaring problems.
The arcade racer has historically been an overlooked genre on console and PC. Whereas other genres such as beat ’em ups, shoot ’em ups, fighting games, and even on-rails lightgun games have had their moment in the spotlight outside of the arcade, rarely do games in the vein of OutRun and Daytona USA receive proper ports. Cruis’n Blast takes the 2017 arcade racer of the same name and scales it down for the Nintendo Switch, and the end result is ideally suited to the handheld console and the short bursts of action it specializes in, even if the game suffers from some performance issues and flat visuals as a result of the underpowered hardware.
Cruis’n Blast sees you placed at the back of the pack in each race, tasked with making it to the top of the podium by way of drifting, boosting, and barrel-rolling through its elaborate tracks. The stages are predominantly focused on injecting as much chaos into the mixer as possible — the London Eye crashes down upon you as you race through England’s capital city, crocodiles snap at your tires when you speed across the safari, and long-extinct dinosaurs roar at your vehicle when you careen through ‘Dino Janeiro.’
Given that there were only five tracks included in the original arcade game, plenty more have been added here by developer Raw Thrills, with each having its own memorable set pieces. These are reminiscent of Motorstorm: Apocalypse, with the world crashing around you as you race to victory, though as they’re directly triggered by only the player’s vehicle, they aren’t dynamic events that change with each race. As such, expect to see the same giant yeti hand reaching out to grab your car at exactly the same moment every time you race on the ‘Yeti Adrenaline’ track.
Everything is neon in Cruis’n Blast, providing a bright veneer over otherwise basic visuals. Considering the breakneck speed at which you’ll be racing through each track, the blocky textures and unimpressive explosions aren’t as noticeable, though in docked mode it’s clear that this isn’t a pretty game. Its arcade equivalent is much more visually striking by comparison, boasting much better particle effects as sparks fly up from your vehicle as it crashes into opponents, better reflections, and more detailed environments. There are performance issues, too, with its frame rate routinely dipping in busier sections or even when simply boosting. While concessions can be made due to this being a Switch game, that the 2017 arcade version looks notably better is disappointing.
Cruis’n Blast is at its best when it’s leaning into the goofier elements of its arcade heritage. You can drift basically everywhere throughout the track, filling up a meter that will give you a speed boost when you let go of the trigger. Players can also receive a boost ahead of their opponents by way of performing a wheelie behind them, which will send your vehicle flipping ahead of them. This leads to some spectacular finishes to races, as you combine big drifts with flips to launch ahead of the competition just before the finish line.
A copious amount of rubber-banding is present here, befitting of the genre but a potential aggravation for those more accustomed to serious racing games. Each car will speed off ahead of you at the starting line no matter your acceleration stats, and you’re never allowed to hurtle way ahead of your opponents. Given that each vehicle is upgradeable, even in my near-perfect level 5 Hummer I never felt like I had too much of an advantage. Some may balk at this, though if you’re like me and love arcade racers like OutRun 2 where rubber-banding is basically a mechanic, you’ll find this all part of Cruis’n Blast’s silly charm.
You also won’t need to worry about crashing your vehicle, given that it will ricochet off the walls and spin straight back into the action. Raw Thrills want you to go as fast as possible at all times, and crashing would only place a hurdle in front of this goal — again, the lack of repercussions for messing up isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s befitting of the genre and I’m all for it.
Unfortunately, while the racing can be exhilarating, aside from the plethora of new tracks made available this is still a relatively barebones package for the solo player. Considering that its races are designed to be more akin to action move set-pieces rather than actually competitive sprints to the finish line, the addition of another mode that was more in-line with traditional racing games would’ve been a welcome addition. Instead, competitive racing is restricted to its multiplayer offering, which allows split-screen for up to four players, though no online modes whatsoever. Split-screen has its own problems, too, with the game taking a performance hit even when just two players are going toe-to-toe. It isn’t debilitating, but considering this is the only way to play with friends, it’s disappointing.
Cruis’n Blast Review: The final verdict
Arcade racers should be better represented on console and PC, with Cruis’n Blast ticking a lot of boxes for those who love this genre and wish that it wasn’t almost solely confined to arcade cabinets. There are few games that will pitch a unicorn in a race against a UFO, and such possibilities in Cruis’n Blast should be celebrated appropriately. However, performance problems, the absence of online multiplayer, and the lack of things to do for the solo player make for an altogether disappointing port, that nonetheless just about offers enough to warrant the attention of arcade racing fans.