When I was a kid, I wanted to work at Midway Games. Their output in the 1990s was nothing short of miraculous, churning out triumph after triumph. NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and Mortal Kombat encouraged all of us to seek out arcades wherever we could to beat the summer heat. Then when the Thanksgiving and holiday breaks rolled out, I found myself crammed around a tiny television playing through Cruis’n games. Looking back now, it’s only now easy to realize how fortunate I was to grow up in this era. This also leads me to Cruis’n Blast.
Cruis’n Blast on the Nintendo Switch so perfectly celebrates and modernizes the arcade racer. The constant feeling of “just one more race” pervades the title, especially when docked. It is a vibrant, loud, and visually thrilling attention grabber. Friends of various gaming interest levels — and even strangers — asked me about it. Both docked and in handheld mode, it feels perfectly plucked from my ’90s childhood playing the other Cruis’n titles in the arcade area of a restaurant before scrounging the floors and coin returns for extra quarters.
There are moments in Cruis’n Blast that are just exquisite thanks to the game’s fantastic atmosphere. My motorcycle was shunted by a pursuing police car while doing a wheelie, sending me flipping off a ramp and down a distance that would, in other worlds, guarantee certain death. I landed not only upright, but did so on top of the car that was in first place, which briefly slowed time for a Burnout-style takedown animation. I drifted across a windy bridge and narrowly won the race.
There was another time when the ground beneath me completely crumbled, sending my fire truck kickflipping for a solid four seconds before slamming into the ground below. Incredible set pieces make for moments like this very often, and they are where Cruis’n Blast shines the brightest. Unfortunately, once your keen eye beholds that many of the “unique” tracks are repackaged versions of a small pocket of originals, it puts a damper on the enjoyment of the package when the volume of content is even lighter than initially perceived.
For those unfamiliar, the Cruis’n series is a masterclass in straightforward, classic arcade races. A single race will find you accelerating, drifting, and slamming into the walls and ceilings of various environments, taking down other drivers, soaring off of jumps, flying through shortcuts, and flipping and barrel rolling off of any remotely raised surface, including other racers. You have three boosts, and you pick up additional boosts from particularly long drifts. Some races are under a minute in length, and all of them can be finished in under two minutes.
In-game currency (read: no microtransactions) is won after every race and exists in random spots along tracks. Each track has three keys that can be collected to unlock new cars, which begin at a motorcycle and just ascend in absurdity from there. Cars can get new paint colors for free, but various cosmetic improvements (neon, body kit, and an engine) cost the same in-game currency. Unfortunately, after unlocking all three for one vehicle, I never found them worth the investment.
The unlock keys are very easy to track. You only have to pick them up once on a track, and once you have them, they just populate your next best race time. Better yet, they are in order — if you missed the first sequential key on a race but collected the second and third, then the second and third keys would be lit up. Tracking keys and money down on tracks is a lot more fun than you’d think due to the roller coaster ride track design, extremely quick race lengths, and mid-race onscreen collection of keys you have either already collected or are missing.
There are single-player and multiplayer modes but no online multiplayer. The single-player modes consist of a four-race circuit not unlike Mario Kart, and an arcade mode where players progress through tracks as if, you guessed it, playing in the arcade. Local multiplayer supports up to four players split-screen, which is a total blast, but some additional mode variety and online multiplayer could have really given the game some vital replay value.
The game is, in this day and age, incredibly undersized in terms of content, especially considering a very crowded racing market on the Switch. Comparing it to Hot Wheels Unleashed with its track editor and online multiplayer, and one can easily get frustrated with how quickly Cruis’n Blast can be completed. Even Burnout Paradise, a title from two console generations ago, offers a more robust single-player experience. To be fair, Cruis’n Blast was designed as an arcade game in 2017, but the quality of the gameplay exacerbates the lack of extras.
Saving that last boost for a last-millisecond front flip off of the car in second place to launch yourself into first stays fresh because of how loose and easy the controls feel in conjunction with the breakneck speed of the races. The Escape Tour, a rework of four tracks wherein seemingly endless police cars constantly slam into you and other racers, feels almost like a separate game mode in and of itself. It’s just a shame that it’s limited to four courses and not something that I could play with my friends over online multiplayer. Sure, the rubber-banding AI can get annoying from time to time, but this game is designed for that sort of experience.
There is always something you can do in a race to keep pace with other racers. If cars are nearby, you can launch off of them. If there’s a straightaway, you can drift slightly to get you a boost. Banking turns are tailor-made for drifting, and random ramps will pop up from the ground and give you a boost. If my fondest holiday memories as a kid were with Cruis’n World and Exotica split-screen on the Nintendo 64, I cannot fathom how thrilling four player split-screen Cruis’n Blast must be for a group of kids that same age.
I picked it up for a paltry $25 during a Black Friday sale and, frankly, I consider it to be a great deal. Ultimately, that’s only five separate $5 trips to the arcade, and today’s games cost well over a dollar per play. Beware of the brevity, but developer Raw Thrills has made an absolutely masterful nostalgic experience that feels straight out of a ’90s kid’s daydream. You will undoubtedly wish for more tracks, customization options, unlockables, and modes, but be confident in knowing that you are picking up a masterclass of the genre from some of the brilliant minds who pioneered it.