The Dreamcast landed on UK shores just as I was set to take a sabbatical from my gaming, ahem, ‘career’. Aged 16, taking A-Levels, just about to commence pissing away the majority of my disposable cash in South Shield’s godawful bars, it all but passed me by in its heyday. Sure, I’d salivated over the gloriously crisp 640x480(!) shots of Sonic Adventure and D2 in CVG during my GCSE year, and had a quick stab playing the superb Crazy Taxi on demo machines, but upon launch the console seemed to me like something of an extravagance - one for enthusiasts, a luxury purchase, despite its relatively low launch price-point. To compound matters, none of my mates owned one either - hedging their bets on the other fruits of next generation, primarily hanging fire for the PlayStation’s successor looming on the horizon.
Though the Dreamcast spearheaded, it felt like a precursor to the next gen, something of a half-step. In hindsight, it was probably cautious assholes like myself en masse that would unwittingly contribute to such a forward-thinking console’s downfall by passing it over in favour of a safer bet a couple of years down the line.
Fast-forward to 2007. I’d graduated from university, working my first full-time job, and responsibly pouring the fruit of my labour into eBay, picking up second-hand console bundles, experiencing classics I’d missed first time round. Circa £50 a pop for a system, accessories and a healthy clutch of games was an absolute steal, and without a doubt, the Dreamcast was my best auction win. Though closely challenged by House of the Dead 2 (with a now-redundant lightgun, since upgrading from a CRT TV) the jewel in the mishmash collection I grabbed was a polished port of SEGA's flagship racer, Daytona USA 2001.
Though SEGA dished up a competent, faithful home conversion of Sega Rally as a Saturn launch title, its rushed out 1995 stab at Daytona USA was nothing short of an affront, technically botched and jerkier than 13-year-old me with a Eurotrash omnibus surreptitiously taped off late-night Channel 4. Even the Championship Circuit Apology Edition a year later failed to rectify critical framerate issues. In short, it sucked. Sensing the error in their ways, SEGA’s (alongside developer Genki) Daytona Dreamcast redux several years down the line was given deluxe treatment, notably a full graphical overhaul replete with more complex car models, cruising along at an unwavering 60FPS. That buttery smooth, arcade-muscle-assisted quality (which to this day still provokes me to pump 50p pieces into old Daytona USA cabinets happened upon in seafront amusements) had finally come home. ARCADE PERFECT.
Those who grew up playing games around the time “arcade perfect” was regularly bandied about will be well aware the phrase was more often than not a crock of shit. Shrunken sprites and truncated colour palettes abounded on every format (bar the mighty Neo Geo) during the 8/16-bit era, while later consoles failed to match the sheer polygon-pushing grunt of dedicated boards, lacking a layer of gloss. The Dreamcast was the first system offering visually indistinguishable (even or enhanced) ports of 3D games, seemingly built to shun compromise. It had a fair crack at replicating input too, thanks to sturdy peripherals - sure, Daytona USA 2001’s controls are twitchy as heck out of the box, but use a steering wheel controller and ease the analogue sensitivity down a touch, and it plays like a dream.
Coming late in the console's lifespan, Daytona USA 2001 is something of a spruced up swan song. Every asset from previous iterations is present and revamped, including a handful of stock cars aside from the iconic Hornet (one requiring 100 hours of gameplay to unlock) a full complement of tracks, available in every possible mirror/reverse permutation, remixes of the sugar-coated campy rock soundtrack, and even head-to-head online play, if you’re lucky enough to snap up an NTSC copy and travel back in time to a point the servers still function.
Despite a career mode and some semblance of progression, Daytona USA 2001 offers precious little in the way of narrative, instead pitching itself as a pure celebration of jump-in racing, slick, OTT presentation trumping realism - your car flips and is reset in seconds, the only real damage done to lap times. Uncluttered track design ensures bias towards a fully-floored accelerator, with the brake button tapped sparingly, as should be the case in any racing game worth its salt. The slipstream-slingshot 'drafting' mechanic is simple yet satisfying, catching a tailwind and weaving in and out of CPU-controlled opponents at blistering speed bestowing an immense sense of mastery on the player, with little practice necessary.
What draws me time and again to dusting off my Dreamcast and booting up Daytona USA 2001 is the encapsulation of gleeful, unadulterated, no-frustrating-bullshit gaming, stripped down to core values of DRIVE FAST and DON'T CRASH. Pelting down the tarmac in third person, the sensation of raw power evoked by your dayglo vehicle's ludicrously accentuated bobbing, SEGA-speciality saturated skyboxes overhead, is intoxicating escapism.
Dan is someone you probably already follow on Twitter. He doesn't write about games much, but he bloody should.