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Cruis’n returns in a new arcade racing game

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Cruis'n Red Line is playable right now in Chicago.

Over the past two decades, the Cruis'n series has had a long history of success in arcades, but the series' last proper entry is better off forgotten. Released in 2007 for Wii, Midway's Cruis'n was a conversion of Raw Thrills' The Fast and the Furious arcade game, and it became a mess on its way to the console. Luckily, that won't be the last we've seen of this arcade icon.

In fact, Raw Thrills — the company founded by original Cruis'n USA director and arcade legend Eugene Jarvis — is currently testing Cruis'n Red Line, a brand new arcade cabinet licensed by Nintendo. It offers a throwback to the classic days of Cruis'n in bite-sized chunks, albeit with some modern enhancements.

Red Line is being field tested at the Regal City North Stadium 14 movie theater in Chicago, and over the course of the summer, it has gone through some changes en route to what we expect will be a wider launch. Raw Thrills didn't respond to requests about the game's current state of development in time for this story, but here are some impressions based on playing the test version.

cruisn red line

Cruis'n Red Line has been on test for a few months now, initially under the name Cruis'n Adventure. In the current testing setup, it appears to be running on a repurposed Disney/Pixar Cars cabinet with two linked units each sporting a 42-inch display. Nintendo logos are plastered all over both cabinets.

In this version, Cruis'n Red Line has five tracks available: Mojave, Madagascar, London, Rio de Janeiro and Singapore, each with its own theme and some with big moments that occur while you race. London and Singapore are the early standouts; the former finds you racing through the city as a detached Ferris wheel rolls around, plus you drive atop elevated train cars that eventually derail and crash. Singapore, meanwhile, begins on a skyscraper rooftop amidst a thunderstorm and ultimately routes you through an underwater tunnel.

The Rio course sends you smashing through parade floats and taking a soaring leap with the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in the backdrop, while Madagascar has a Tyrannosaurus Rex wreaking havoc, a burning plane crashing and a beached pirate ship that you crash through. By contrast, the Mojave track is pretty much eventless: it's mostly just a highway that winds through a desert, and it seems like a work-in-progress compared to the others.

In June when I first played the game, you selected your car using an optional physical card system. If you chose not to pay for it, the game assigned you a random “base" car, but for a dollar you'd get a randomly dispersed card from the cabinet. Most of the cards were adorned with licensed cars, such as a 2013 Lamborghini Veneno or 2016 Nissan GT-R, and each included a premium perk for the car's engine or body.

cruisn red line cards

It's a paid upgrade system, essentially: you bought a card and were always able to tap into the relevant perk so long as you had the card with you. An infrared scanner on the machine read the barcode on each and applied the car skin or benefit before the race. The cards said "First Edition!" for "Cruis'n: Raw Thrills," and there were 33 of them — some of which were purely power-up cards, such as one that allowed for unlimited boosting (you get three nitrous boosts by default).

However, last week when I visited again, the game was on display with this feature removed. The signage for the cards was gone and the slots had been covered with stickers. In the new version, you can pick from a handful of in-game cars (mostly Lamborghinis) and one upgrade, whether it's a body, engine or paint enhancement. I'm not sure if this means Raw Thrills has decided to not pursue the card system, or is testing the game in a different configuration to see how it performs.

Whatever the case, I didn't notice any significant changes to the core gameplay between those sessions, and I've now played each track a few times. Red Line plays like the Fast and the Furious arcade games, which themselves felt somewhat like spiritual successors to the Cruis'n series.

cruisn red line

It's fast, it's over-the-top and it's a good time, although for now the personality is a bit subdued. There's a lot happening in a couple of the locations, as noted, and seeing your car smash through a glass wall at the finish line is certainly grandiose. At the moment, the game's atmosphere doesn't seem as pumped up as in the classic entries, though it's hard to say how closely that will reflect the final game.

Regardless, it's solid arcade fun: fast, frenzied racing with a vibrant allure and some wild moments along the way.

And what's playable right now may not be all there is to Cruis'n: Red Line, whether it's in track and car selection or race length. A Raw Thrills representative told Arcade Heroes back in May that the test version at that point was "a small fraction of what the game will be."

In any case, there's plenty of upside here: Raw Thrills specializes in building entertaining arcade experiences, and with further content and polish, Red Line could be a welcome reminder of the series' glory days. In any case, it's already miles ahead of the last Cruis’n.