Nothing ever changes.
There are always controversies in the videogame world. They’re generally about as “controversial” as someone preferring Dr. Pepper to Coke, but they’re there, and they’re constant. And you’d be forgiven for assuming these controversies are inventions of digital writers in need of the next big headline, or marketing companies desperate for any press, good or ill, that is going to get their name out there; but, no, these same controversies have been going on for decades. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the strange case of Cruis’n USA.
You may remember Cruis’n USA as “that racing game for N64”. It was featured in a lot of Nintendo Power coverage, saw a lot of play at the local arcades, and was lauded as “a game that isn’t Mario 64” for your brand new Nintendo 64 64-bit videogame system. It used partially digitized graphics to simulate a real race across the United States, and, unlike many racing games that were constrained to tracks or Mushroom Kingdoms, Cruis’n USA featured real locations like Golden Gate Bridge or the Redwood Forest. Of course, it was all about as real as a walking tour of Zebes (fun fact: the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore are about 15 hours apart from each other, not two minutes), but it’s all fun enough, and even “fake-real” racing was a change from the standard of the day (we were still a few years away from Gran Turismo).
But Cruis’n USA had its fair share of problems, practically from its inception. For instance…
THE DEMO IS A LIE!
Cruis’n USA saw release on the home consoles in 1996, but it was an arcade game released upon the public in November of 1994. The summer before that, it was first demoed at CES. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it was a stimulating experience for everyone involved, and there were many excited reports about Midway’s latest racer. This was the company that revolutionized the fighting game genre with Mortal Kombat a few years earlier, so, hey, maybe they’re going to strike gold again. Who doesn’t like hot cars and hotter venues?
But more important than the game itself was the announcement that Cruis’n USA was running on Ultra 64 hardware. The N64 was still two years away, and any information on the upcoming Nintendo system was like precious mana from Miyamoto. Cruis’n USA was running on the same tech as the successor to the Super Nintendo? Damn, son, that means the next Nintendo system is going to be off the chain! Did you see those digitized trophy girls? Or those sweet rides? The N64 is going to obliterate that silly Sega Saturn! Sony Playstation who?
Except… it was a fake.
Cruis’n USA was not running on Ultra 64 hardware. It was revealed that Cruis’n USA was made well before the U64 development tools were released, and only Rare, Nintendo’s super best friend 4eva, possessed said tools at all. Cruis’n USA was built on pretty typical arcade hardware of the time, and, shockingly, when the game was ported to the N64 two years later, it looked like your typical, downgraded “arcade port”. It was recognizable, but… not the same. Not quite the system seller everyone expected. Oh, and speaking of selling systems…
Here is a comprehensive list of Nintendo 64 launch titles:
- Mario 64
- Pilotwings 64
And that’s about that! Now, of course, there were more games to come, but to call the launch anemic is kind of an understatement. This was the first Nintendo system with native four controller support, and there wasn’t a single game available that offered more than a one player experience. Did anyone notice that? There literally was NO reason to purchase a second N64 controller at launch, left alone another two. Yes, we would eventually see a few fighting games and maybe some Wave Racing, but the initial N64 launch was… well, let’s just say they got lucky that Mario 64 was one the best games of all time.
Cruis’n USA was originally intended as a launch game… but it didn’t happen. And it’s a shame, too, because it really could have cleaned up and sold the N64 as a truly next generation, “adult” experience. This was the age of the rise of Playstation, when all the kids that had been weaned on blue robots and chubby elves were now teenagers and desired “maturity”, “real life situations”, and maybe “spine ripping”. The N64 launched exclusively with kiddy ‘intenda games when the gaming public was raiding the metaphorical liquor cabinets and looking for the hard stuff. It might not have made much of a difference, but Cruis’n USA could have at least said, “hey, you’re getting your driver’s license in a few years, let’s hit the road, cool kids!” as opposed to a line-up that asked, “wanna bake a cake?” Oh, and Cruis’n USA was two player, too. Might not have been a reason to buy a full four controllers, but at least it’s a fine excuse to show your new system to your friends. Spread the good word of Nintendo.
But Cruis’n USA didn’t get many good words, because…
As a point of fact, I am a friend to animals. I like most animals, dogs and cats in particular, more than I like most people. If a human is mad at me for no reason, I assume that human is an asshole. If a cat is mad at me for no reason, I douse myself in tuna and purchase an excess stock of laser pointers. I like all the little critters of nature, and, when I’m driving, I will deliberately swerve to avoid a goose, turtle, or any other wayward creature that wanders into the road.
In Cruis’n USA for the arcade, however, you can mow down wildlife at your leisure. Cows and horses wander into the road, and you can transform them into bloody chunks for your amusement (though it does slow down your car). For some reason, this was removed from the home port, presumably because no one wants to explain the full ramifications of the phrase “bloody chunks” to a kid that just finished finding a tiny dinosaur on the roof of a magical castle.
And, thinking of the poor children, there were additional edits to make Cruis’n USA dramatically less sexy. In the original, first place earns you a trophy and a woman in a bikini top to go with it. On the N64, she put on a damn shirt (albeit one that appears to be painted on). And speaking of sex appeal, the arcade version ends with Bill Clinton in a truck-hot tub with a couple of 90’s babes atop the White House, while the N64 version only features your car on the roof (though there are still a few Secret Service dudes milling about… and a cow, for some reason). And, most ridiculously, the final leg of the Washington DC race features a tunnel made of giant hundred dollar bills on the N64, but the arcade version features those bills with Hillary Clinton smoking a cigar instead of ol’ Ben. I.. uh… guess that’s political commentary. And, good news, it’s somehow relevant and saddening twenty years later! Hooray?
Naturally, people noticed this overt editing (the arcade version saw two years’ worth of credits prior to home release, after all), so the fans inundated Midway and Nintendo with letters regarding this clear violation of freedom of speech and ludicrous censorship. We want to see our half-naked ladies, dammit!
Sound familiar? Nothing ever changes, folks. The gaming industry has been pulling the same tricks and making the same “mistakes” for decades, and they’re going to keep doing it. Next time there’s some gaming controversy, remember that it’s not the first time, and those issues are just gonna keep on cruis’n.
FGC #248 Cruis’n USA
- System: N64, and arcade, technically. It’s also on the Wii Virtual Console. Or it was, at least.
- Number of players: Let me tell you, back in the day, I routinely played my N64 on a screen roughly the size of an iphone. You do not want to know how difficult it was to play two-player split screen races on that. We still did, mind you, it just probably permanently marred my vision. Squinting 4 life!
- Favorite Car: I don’t know… the red one? I’m not much of a car guy.
- Filthy Cheater: Oh, wait, I do have a favorite car! It’s the school bus that you can only get through entering a secret code. In keeping in the theme of this article, I’ll note that if this game were released about fifteen years later, that bus would now be impossible-to-access DLC.
- Did you know? I want to say that this was the first game I ever played that made saving to the N64 memory pack standard. Couldn’t spring for a damn save battery, Midway? Screw you guys.
- Would I play again: I loved this game when it was first released. And… I don’t think I’ve touched it since the release of Final Fantasy 7. Think I’m going to keep that up.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ogre Battle! Get your chess pieces ready for an epic battle that nobody fully understands! Please look forward to it!