The Cruis’n series hit arcades in 1994 with Cruis’n USA and was different from the norm at the time. Other games were bold and bombastic and Cruis’n was more toned-down and subdued, but still delivered a lot of fun and was seen in its time as a showcase of the future. Nintendo was boldly hyping up the then-Ultra 64 on the backs of this game and Killer Instinct to showcase the N64’s power, but the goal was never achieved and the franchise suffered. Later games were still good, but stuck in time as arcade racers were on the decline both in arcades and at home. The industry was shifting more towards large car rosters and simulation-style affairs, leaving the series a bit lost.
The brand name itself would have been dormant for almost twenty years on consoles if it wasn’t for the Fast and Furious arcade game being given the Cruis’ n brand name when it was ported to the Wii. 2017 saw the release of Cruis’n Blast to arcades and with their history in both arcades and with the aforementioned Fast and Furious game, Raw Thrills was a natural fit for the series. Cruis’n Blast hit arcades and received rave reviews, but left fans wondering when we could see a return to the series on consoles. It didn’t seem likely, but wound up coming to fruition at E3 2021 when the latest arcade entry was announced for Switch.
Raw Thrills wisely focused on filling the trailer with the addictive “Cruis’n” song and showcased some completely silly, but hilarious vehicles and scenarios alongside them to make sure everyone saw what separated a modern-day arcade game from a game that was arcade-inspired. It’s remarkable to see just how big a difference that is because it really has been a long time since a genuine arcade racer has gotten a home port of any kind. Steam has gotten FAST BEAT LOOP RACER GT and that’s been it. On the console side, we’ve seen ports of classics like Outrun and Virtua Racing hit the Switch — but nothing that makes use of newer technology.
Games like Horizon Chase Turbo and ’80s Overdrive do a fantastic job of feeling like arcade racers, but none truly are and just seeing an arcade racer at home again shows how much freedom there can be in that design when compared to an arcade-inspired game. The pace is faster, the action is crazier and the core goal being to impress someone who just catches a glimpse of the excitement in the corner of their eye is ever-present. Unlike older arcade racers, Blast isn’t about point-to-point checkpoint races, but instead goes for letting the player to enjoy all of the track and experience every insane setpiece the stage has to offer.
The racing action is exciting by default and made even more fun by all of the track surprises that are in store for the player. Going through London with an out of control Ferris wheel is memorable enough and then things get more insane with stuff like a giant yeti attacking the crew and resulting in the player having to crash through ice walls. Every race is exciting, with a degree of spectacle to it that keeps things fresh. The Switch version has all five tracks from the arcade version alongside nineteen new tracks set across various themes. There’s an alien invasion in one and ever-present storms in others alongside a dinosaur-themed cup. The variety in track design is unmatched and vehicle selection is tremendous too. Licensed normal cars sit alongside playable UFOs, dinosaurs and unicorns alongside customization options.
Stages have multiple collectibles throughout — including cash for upgrades and hidden keys to unlock new vehicles. The tracks themselves are bold in both design and color, resulting in some of the brightest graphics on Switch to the point where this should be a fantastic showcase for the OLED model when that launches. The visuals as a whole look good for Switch, but there’s jaginess on display in both docked and handheld mode. Both modes do impressively feature consistent framerates and there aren’t drops even with tons going on at once. It helps that this is a port of a 2017 arcade game and not something trying to be cutting-edge, but the fact that things look as good as they do with all of the goings-on visually is impressive.
Cruis’n Blast has a bombastic soundtrack and it’s catchy to a degree that hasn’t been heard in a console racer in many years. Not since the days of Daytona USA have we heard such corny, but funny tunes in a racing game. Between the music, things like dinosaurs running wild, and boosts all around you, there’s always something to listen to that catches your ear. Every sense is overloaded at some point in this adventure and it’s a surprising amount of fun to experience it. It’s also great to see how much control is given to the player to tailor the experience to their liking.
Players can switch between songs with the press of a button and even set assists on in-game. If you want to focus on getting collectables, then setting auto-accelerate on might be a smart choice, while those who prefer motion controls for turning can use that if they prefer. It’s fun to tinker with a few different settings just to mix things up. I’m not normally big into motion controls for racing games, but trying it out for races I already fully completed was a lot of fun. It’s tough to recommend for a first playthrough though given the slight design in comparison to the left analog stick control.
Cruis’n Blast is the most thrilling racing experience on Switch and the best arcade racer in years. It plays like a dream and offers up more control options than most arcade racers on the console. Its diverse lineup of vehicles, tracks and various track-related setpieces are tremendous and keep the player engaged from beginning to end. Other than the lack of online multiplayer, it’s hard to find something missing from the overall presentation given what the game is trying to be. The sound design is fantastic as well — with a fun soundtrack that’s breezy and easy on the ears.