Cruis’n Blast‘s placement on my list of favorite video games of 2021 should not be taken as a universal recommendation. As a painstakingly authentic refresh of the dated Cruis’n arcade-racing series, it’s a simple game, and in many ways, it lags behind other arcade racers that have come and gone in the past few years.
Still, if you’re looking for sheer, unadulterated, all-ages racing fun, especially on the underpowered Nintendo Switch, you should set your GPS coordinates to the bonkers racetracks and Burnout-leaning smashy-smash of Cruis’n Blast as soon as possible.
Cruis’n through history: A primer
Cruis’n emerged in the ’90s as one of the only major Western racing series in arcades, years after Sega and Namco unleashed their own dazzling 3D racers. This Midway series didn’t really compete with the likes of Daytona USA or Ridge Racer, as it was marked by wimpy tech and simple mechanics. Instead, 1994’s Cruis’n USA kept things loud and silly in a shameless, drive-straight-ahead manner. The result was, depending on where you lived, a pizza parlor mainstay—and one that rode Nintendo’s coattails, since it was emblazoned with “Nintendo Ultra 64” logos before that console launched with a different name.
A few Cruisin’ sequels and home console ports came and went, and as arcades dwindled, the series went into hibernation. Soon after, Midway crumbled, and a group of ex-Midway devs co-founded the arcade game-maker Raw Thrills in the early ’00s. (If you’ve been to an American arcade in the past decade, you’ve seen more and more of their elaborate games, particularly the Halo: Fireteam Raven machine.) Four years ago, Raw Thrills went the full-circle route of licensing the Cruis’n name from Nintendo, then quietly sneaked a racing sequel into arcades, which set Nintendo fans’ tongues wagging. Did this mean we might get more home Cruis’n?
This week, we have the answer in the Switch-exclusive racer Cruis’n Blast. In good news, the modern flavor of Cruis’n has struck a careful balance between adopting new tricks and feeling doggedly old-school.
A funny test for Cruis’n cred
Like in the original games, each Blast racetrack mostly consists of go-straight racing instead of go-anywhere open-world driving. If you want to double-check these tracks’ Cruis’n cred, let go of the steering wheel and punch the gas. You’ll somehow manage to get to the finish line each time, albeit slowly, owing to a goofy physics model that always bounces a wall-colliding car in the correct direction.
Even if you play Blast so stupidly, you will have… a blast. Each racetrack is a visual candyland of overblown virtual theme park stupidity. A pack of dinosaurs can stomp over one racetrack, while the next features a ramp that launches your ride into the air—only for an earthquake to destroy the track where you hoped to land! But fear not: the chasm opening below you reveals an entirely different road, where your car somehow lands perfectly.
Colorful, detail-rich tracks, unnecessarily shiny cars, and massive, WTF-worthy transitions litter every single racetrack, and the results had me laughing incredulously through my review period. If you’ve watched every Fast & Furious film and wondered how Dom’s “familia” could one-up the previous films’ car craziness, Cruis’n Blast is the racing game for you: yetis, pirate ships, and missile-launching helicopters, oh my.
Despite its approachability, Cruis’n Blast offers its share of challenge, especially in its harder difficulties. You’ll need to master its new twists to succeed, and the biggest is a drift-to-boost mechanic. During any large turn, hold down a button to engage drifting, then wiggle your joystick back and forth to avoid hitting the road’s walls. Maintain a drift for long enough, and you’ll max out and launch an immediate nitro boost.
As a fun Blast bonus, you don’t have to worry about car collisions while you’re mid-drift. In fact, these are encouraged—because bumping into a car at the correct angle when you’re drifting knocks it out, Burnout-style, into a crumpled, flipping car carcass. This isn’t the result if you tap a car from behind or lose a drift through a turn, however, which creates a spicy risk-and-reward predicament whenever you’re approaching a car-filled racetrack bend.
Caveats about depth, offline-only modes
Even at “normal” difficulty, you’ll have a lot of work to do to balance proper drifting, judicious use of three free nitro surges per race, careful use of shortcuts, and a twitchy response time to avoid momentum-slowing collisions. Success in Cruis’n Blast is far from guaranteed, and managing its turns and midtrack dangers feels perfectly honed—arguably owing to Raw Thrills’ decades of racing-fun experience. This dev team understands how to pepper an average racetrack with arcade-worthy stuff to react to, including cheesy come-from-behind AI, and that formula exceeds the likes of indie retro racers like Hotshot Racing and Drift Stage.
At the same time, this game is nowhere near the depth or breadth of something like Forza Horizon. That series combines open-world romps with a meaty physics model, a wide range of driving styles, and a carefully curated selection of racetracks on varied terrain. Blast also doesn’t necessarily push the arcade-racing genre forward as much as other legendary Midway series like San Francisco Rush 2049 or Hydro Thunder did, both of which reveled in thrilling physics and insane shortcut potential.
While Blast boasts a selection of 29 racetracks, some of those are remixes of either the 2017 game’s arcade originals or some of the new ones built for this Switch port, which shrinks its content proposition a bit. And without an online mode to speak of, much of your Blast mileage may hinge on whether you can get a split-screen party together. Though, if you can, the results are a treat, since the straightforward racing action lends itself well to neck-and-neck showdowns that hinge on a finish-line moment at the end of a screamin’ two-minute race.
A good time with low expectations
My appreciation for Cruis’n Blast comes in spite of its occasional jankiness—and sometimes because of it. Any of its cars can flip, somersault, and do “side wheelies” by double-tapping the drift button at the right time, and if a car propels off a massive ramp and lands midflip, it will harmlessly and unrealistically bounce forward so that you can continue driving. If cars slam into each other or a roadside wall, sometimes their polygons messily glitch into each other, though only for a moment. The result is always, again, a harmless bounce back into the racing action.
I like Blast‘s absolute confidence in prioritizing joy over technical competence, all while mostly sticking to a 60 fps refresh on the wimpy Nintendo Switch. If that fits your arcade-racing preferences, or if you prefer something more strait-laced and logically sound, approach this silly game accordingly.
I don’t see myself sticking with Cruis’n Blast as a regular romp that I play as a crazed completist to find its secrets and unlock its variety of cars and cosmetic upgrades. Instead, my week with the game has already been marked by me saying to myself a few times, “I’m in a bad mood, and I want to play the giddy stupidity of Cruis’n Blast to cheer myself up.” It’s that kind of game, and it is very, very, very good at adding some pep to my Nissan GT-R’s step.
Verdict: A must-rent if you own a Switch. A possible buy if shamelessly silly arcade-racing fun sounds up your alley.
Listing image by Raw Thrills / Nintendo