Wednesday, November 10, 2010

California Speed -- Garbage With REDEEMING QUALITIES

Well, everyone knows about Midway (they're long gone now).  The Cruis'n series was Midway's bread-and-butter racing series.  At first, there was Cruis'n USA.  Then they expanded their sights larger and made Cruis'n World.  Then they decided to "up the ante" with Cruis'n Exotica which covered more intriguing locations not covered in the prequel.

However, let's focus on Atari Games.  In 1996, they were consumed by Midway.  Atari Games was renamed to Midway Games West to avoid confusion with regular old Midway.  Atari was responsible for some old school games like Paperboy, Marble Madness, S.T.U.N. Runner, Super Sprint, Hard Drivin', Gauntlet, Area 51, and so forth.  Read more here.

But Atari isn't the main focus of this article.  It's about California Speed.  You see, while Midway was cooking up Cruis'n games, Atari was cooking up Rush games (SF Rush, Rush 2, Rush 2049).  Now IMO, I think the Rush series is far superior to the Cruis'n series.  However, Atari, seeing what their Midway brethren had done, also felt the need to get their hands dirty and make their own Cruis'n style game and they called it California Speed.

Supplemental Material: San Francisco Rush N64Cruis'n World N64.

Why not California?  The largest state in size and population in the continental US.  Highest and lowest altitudes in the continental US (Mt. Whitney and Death Valley respectively).  It has the 7th-10th largest GDP in the world.  Its population also consists of 7.3% illegal immigrants, voted heavily Democrat in the last 20 years, and in San Francisco, you can't buy Happy Meals with toys anymore.  What else do you need to know...

So while Midway was going BIG, Atari was going SMALL.  The state of California packs more action in it than most of the world combined.  And for the most part, they're right.  Along with big cities and noticeable landmarks, California Speed contains plenty of crazy courses and environments in it, such as supercomputers, roller coasters, shopping malls, and so forth.  Midway only started to up the ante with Cruis'n Exotica and by then the "crap racer" genre has already overstayed its welcome...

In retrospect: Cruis'n World was released 1996 (arcade) and 1998 (N64) while California Speed was released in 1998 (arcade) and 1999 (N64).  I'm not even going to talk about the arcade version since it sucks IMO (mostly because of the music).  This one's entirely about the N64.

However, despite the "praise" I give to California Speed, lest you forget this is still a mediocre racing game only exceeding the Cruis'n series in certain aspects.  The handling and graphics in California Speed is awfully similar to that of San Francisco Rush--like Atari just took the source code, ripped it to pieces, and tried to make an awful Cruis'n clone.  I think that the Cruis'n games have sharper visuals and you'll notice Rush's blotchy visuals and sparse detail in selection locations will come into play.

Which one has the better sense of speed is debatable.  California Speed cars top 180 mph while Cruis'n World cars average 150 mph although the latter allow higher speeds due to upgrades.  You make up your own minds there.  Either way, I think both games' sense of speed is rather dry so neither is too spectacular IMO.  I know that California Speed has the longer courses of the two, clocking in at over 2:30 while Cruis'n World's last around a mediocre 1:45 per run.

In California Speed, your car is much more glued to the road, you can't explode, you can't do stunts, and you can't even flip into the air.  At least in Cruis'n games, you have to avoid contact with other stuff and turn on a dime.  In California Speed, there is relatively less interaction with the game as you generally cruise forward dodging occasional traffic.  In one old review (IGN's if I recall), they described the game as a "one-finger game"--that you only need one finger to succeed and that is hold the gas and that's it.  You can bounce off everything and you can't fail.  On the other hand, the AI cars are way too stingy and will ride your ass the whole way unless you don't touch anything, so that's weird.

But regardless, let's get to the game footage, which I find fascinating for some reason.  The car selection is rather bland, but it has some funny as hell cars, like a golf cart or a forklift.  Also, the music in the N64 game just kicks ass--I can't explain why, but some of it is damn good driving music.  So here we go:

Los Angeles:

Drive down interstate, through an aqueduct, then through Beverly Hills.  Pretty standard stuff but the music is AWESOME.  I also love how the guy destroys a tree at 2:17 and doesn't lose any speed whatsoever.

Santa Cruz:

This track starts of normally then it's blandness continues for a while until you start driving on a roller coaster.  Holy crap.


Drive along a beach (the water doesn't slow you down at all WTF), then through an aquarium (Scud Race Underwater Tunnel!!) and then along a golf course.  This game knows no bounds.

San Francisco:

A fairly decent replica of San Fran with the hills and the row houses.  BTW, you don't just drive on the Golden Gate Bridge, you drive UP the sides.  You can see some elements from the old Rush games here, such as the sneaky subway tunnel.


BOY, this stage has a TON of elevation changes.  Otherwise, just your normal outdoor stage.  Flopping through the river and trees and whatnot.  Not a big fan of the New Age Techno, but it does sound like Rush 2 music to me.

Central Valley:

Well gee golly, if this isn't the greatest banjo pluckin' I've ever heard.  The music changes to some sexy disco beat in the mall.  DAMN, this is the world's longest mall--must be 5 mi / 8 km long.  You could actually "hit" sprite people in the arcade version, but not here.

San Diego:

JUMP THE BORDER WOOHOO!  You drive on aircraft carriers and stuff.  Yo, look at this dude in the golf cart at 1:50 LOLOLOLOL

Mojave Desert:

You drive through a desert, a military base, then into a large UFO.  It's stupid but I love this damn song for some reason.

Mt. Shasta:

Wow, the volcano level.  You'll see that a lot of out the wilderness areas in this game are relatively similar (just trees and crap) but then you enter that volcano which looks like Red Mountain from Sonic Adventure.

Silicon Valley:

This is the big supercomputer level.  This one's pretty cool.

That's about it in terms of tracks.  There's also Highway 1, and some other crap bonus courses like Fuji Speedway (although that's in JAPAN), San Andreas fault, and a small replica of California.  There's also Laguna Seca and Sears Point, but I think those are only available in the arcade version.  You do your own research.  Overall, the game sucks and has nothing on Sega who was busy kicking ass with Daytona USA at this point in history (1998-1999), but it shows that some other developers out there "have it" when it comes to making crazy racing games.  So adios, amigos.