Yeah, yeah, everybody loves Robotron. But E Jarvis didn't stop making good stuff in 1982, y'know. Give the poor guy a break from your nostalgist fantasies, whydoncha?

Out Run is a loveable game in a lot of ways, but it started a hideous rot in racing titles. Until Out Run, motoring-based videogaming had been about high-speed obstacle-dodging action, ie going faster than everyone else without hitting them. Before Out Run, the sides of the road only existed as something to crash into if you veered over too far while trying to overtake. Starting with Out Run, car games began to be about driving.

This is, of course, a bad thing. If you want to struggle just to keep a vehicle on the road and going in a straight line, go run around Sainsbury's car park with a shopping trolley on a wet day, you spacky, ugly nerd. The day racing games started to get boring (culminating in the shattering, knuckle-chewing triumvirate of tedium that is Gran Turismo, Ferrari F355 and R: Racing Evolution) was the day you had to spend more time fighting to stop your car skidding clean off the track and crunching to a dead stop than you did burning up your opponents. And who could we count on to try to turn that tiresome tide back in the direction of honest, simple-minded high-octane fun? Why, our old buddy Mister J, of course.

"Shit, this is the bridge from Virtua Racing. I'm lost."

Cruis'n USA, and its short line of descendants, were a heroic but ultimately doomed attempt to wrestle the racing game away from the beardy Tomorrow's World nerds and give it back to the cool, slim, attractive kids who used to queue out of the door of glamorous neon-lit arcades for a chance to play Monaco GP or Night Driver or Turbo or Road Fighter. In the Cruis'n games, it's almost impossible to go off the track accidentally, and if you do leave the road (in search of a shortcut, say) you don't grind to a halt and have to spend half a minute reversing round, facing the right way and ploughing through grass, mud or gravel just to get back up to a halfway-decent speed - there's a momentary pause and then you're off again.

"Bugger. Some of those packages of Semtex must have fallen out of the boot."

In Cruis'n, your enemy isn't a slab of grey tarmac, it's a bunch of other drivers who are haring around just as fast and recklessly as you are, to the extent that they even find themselves entangled in massive multi-car pile-ups now and again, or misjudging a jump, spinning through the sky and smashing upside-down into the ground from 100 feet in the air. (Of course, they recover from this sort of minor catastrophe as quickly as you do.)

This is a race, not a driving test. And so that it feels like you're actually racing to somewhere - rather than just slogging around some featureless test circuit over and over again - the Cruis'n games take you to fun places, whether it's Grand Canyon-style deserts, the streets of London (complete with red phone boxes, double-decker buses and Beefeaters), leaping across bullet-train tracks outside Tokyo, or picking exactly the wrong time to visit Stonehenge. You can't race for 10 seconds without encountering something new and cool to see, rendered in ultra-crisp, super-bright, richly-coloured graphics that leave dull old reality gazing on in envy.

The aliens joined in the protest about the new bypass.

Part of the reason that Cruis'n USA, World and Exotica - unlike Jarvis' older games - are almost never afforded the critical respect and adoration they deserve may be the fact that it's not too easy to play any of them these days. Coin-op machines are few and far between, the MAME emulation is still primitive and slow, and the N64 ports are imperfect and really need a proper N64 joypad to get the most out of them. But this reporter looks forward to the day when we're all running lovely 5GHz PCs which can effortlessly recreate these incomparably joyful arcade racers in all their glory, and dear old Uncle Eugene will finally bask in the acclaim properly merited for something he did less than 20 years ago.


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