Review: Cruis'n Blast
By: Roberto Nieves
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Raw Thrills
Publisher: Raw Thrills
It was the staple of every arcade, movie theater, and rest area on the road. The Cruis’n games, with their large display and racing-style arcade cabinets, always attracted the passerby, intriguing one enough to put the one or two dollars in coins to play a game. It was a rewarding, loony, silly, and outright fun racing game that took players on completely absurd and ludicrous courses, allowing players to drive anything from a corvette to a hot rod to an armored hummer. The block graphics were cutting edge for the time, and in a time when the blue hedgehog was the biggest name in town, the sensation of speed was impossible to ignore. Cruis’n USA and Cruis’n World were staples of the 90’s arcade scene, and it got even better with Cruis’n Exotica. Then, it all fell silent. Gaming consoles grew and evolved, and games only got better, but for the past twenty years, the Cruis'n games were essentially buried, save for one strange installment on the Gameboy Advance and a painful release on the Wii in 2007. Now, in 2022, there is a new Cruis'n game ready to party like it’s 1999, and that is Cruis'n Blast, an excellent arcade racer that finds a great home on the Nintendo Switch.
Cruis’n Blast is an arcade racing game first released in 2017 to arcades worldwide. Known for its impressive visuals, kinetic competitiveness, and over-the-top racing, Cruis’n Blast made a good impression at arcades. The core gameplay concept of the Cruis'n games is to race across a linear path, dodging obstacles such as oncoming traffic, and using every possible means to get into first place, from nitro boosts to double-tapping the gas button for extra speed boosts. Each course features a complete calamity of nonsensical set pieces that only add to the enjoyment of the racing experience. Earlier games were simpler, having players drive through familiar destinations such as New York City and Los Angeles, but later games had players drive underwater around Atlantis and on the red surface of Mars. It was bizarre and surreal, with the only comparisons to be made being Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing but without weapons. It was remarkably easy and simple, not relying on blue turtle shells or secret characters, but instead, the ability to drive as straight as one can drive and not crash.
Cruis’n Blast doesn’t change that formula. Players drive hard and fast across a linear roller coaster of courses. Volcanoes, mystical jungles, even one with the Yeti are just some of the courses that encompass the lunacy of each race. Once again, the goal is to drive fast, avoid obstacles, and drive as cleanly as possible, which means avoid the walls and avoid hitting each other. Each course in Cruis’n Blast is as wild and inexplicable as one would expect. Some are more familiar, like Singapore, but others involve Typhoons, Earthquakes, and other catastrophes. While the core gameplay is to drive on a linear path, some paths are trickier than others. Higher difficulties mean more obstacles to contend with, from jumps and sharp turns to helicopter attacks.
In earlier Cruis’n games, players had to be unerring in their driving, almost having to hold the gas down the entire time to reach first place. In Cruis’n Blast, things are more forgiving. Finishing each race unlocks XP for that particular vehicle. More XP means leveling up to unlock more boost, new decals, and even a more powerful engine. Leveling each vehicle to level 5 means having that specific car be maxed out in its speed.
Additionally, another goal of each race isn’t so much to finish each course in first place, but instead to collect golden keys and wads of money. Money is what is used to buy boosts and upgrade vehicles. Golden keys unlock new racers. This gives levels high replayability, though finishing first, especially in the tournaments, unlocks more courses and tournaments to race on.
Regarding racing mechanics, the core gameplay of Cruis’n Blast remains the same. Hold the button to go and turn left and right. Some segments of the track feature wide turns, which is a perfect time to drift. Drifting successfully gives a small boost and can be a huge key to victory. Players may also perform stunts for points and to shave off time. With enough money, players can purchase nitro tanks. A maximum of 5 can be used per race, and while they unleash a tremendous amount of energy for speed, they should be used sparingly and at specific times for those vying for first place.
Cruis’n Blast features a large assortment of vehicles to choose from. Some are familiar, such as the Chevy Corvette ZXR, but others are more cartoonish, much to the benefit of the game’s theme. Players can drive a school bus, a unicorn, and even a helicopter that would seem perfectly at home in the world of 1982’s Tron. There isn’t much in the way of customization, but players can choose different colors and decals.
The racing thrills that the Cruis’n games are known for are back and better than ever. Fast, kinetic, and outlandishly silly, Cruis’n Blast is incredible fun. It’s a slick racing game that is remarkably simple but enthralling to play, especially in quick bursts. Each race is a chaotic and catastrophic assembly of racers, horses, and spaceship, all vying for first place for virtually no reason other than to get first place. It's an arcade game at its finest, with pure fun all the way through. No complex controls. No overbearing story. Just a simple concept and a lot of style and thrill. Racing at high speeds through mystic temples and exotic city streets is an absolute joy. It is enthralling to be racing at hundreds of miles an hour between a UFO, a unicorn, and a school bus.
One of the most remarkable features of Cruis’n Blast is its focus on local multiplayer. Up to four players can play on the Nintendo Switch, and with the widely accessible gameplay, anyone with any skill level can play. This is where Cruis’n Blast opens up and rises on the fun factor. When there is another player, the game goes from fun to incredibly fun, but when there are three or four players, it becomes one of the best local multiplayer experiences players can have outside of Mario Kart. I played the local multiplayer with my godson and niece, ages nine and eight, respectively, and laughed and cheered nonstop for the hour we played. Seeing and hearing that is a delightful feeling, as it shows the developers had an opportunity and used it to create something inviting for players who have never played video games.
The local multiplayer four modes. First To Three Mode is a marathon-style mode that ends when one player gets three wins. Single Race, Classic Arcade, and Cruis’n Tour are self-explanatory but are nonetheless thrilling variations for multiplayer. Another nice touch is all XP and cash earned in local multiplayer crosses over into single-player, making every race productive.
Cruis’n Blast is a solid racer, but it does come with a few bumps in the road. Cruis’n Blast was designed for arcades and short bursts of play. The game gets repetitive quickly if one were to play it for long periods, though multiplayer sessions somewhat mitigate that. Additionally, while there is a large assortment of levels and vehicles, some callbacks to the original would have been a nice addition, with new vehicles sporting the blocky graphics of the past. Once all the vehicles have been maxed out, there isn’t much to come back to, though once again, the thrill of playing with friends is a big positive. This could have been time to experiment with different courses and race modes, maybe even having its own interpretation of a Mario Kart.
Cruis’n Blast is a blast from the past, and it is a very welcome one. Cruis’n Blast is a visual splendor with many outrageous courses, but the gameplay is simple and enthralling. Playing alone is fun, but playing together is incredible. It’s a welcome bout of nostalgia that has aged like a fine wine and may hopefully blast more comebacks of arcade classics, such as Hydro Thunder, Operation Wolf, and Virtua Cop. Cruis’n Blast is a blast. Get ready and go cruis’n.
Cruis'n Blast was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch OLED thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up Dot Org from public relations firm Sandbox Strategies in New York City.