Welcome to “Raising ‘Cade”, a retrospective feature about the original gaming arena: the arcade. Every week, we’re setting out around the darkest corners of America in search of a different game to play. The goal? Chronicle every arcade game in existence. In part 6 of our 15,435 part series, we take a look at one of the newest games to hit arcades, Dirty Drivin’.
Besides redemption, racing is one of the few game genres that stands a chance in arcades these days. After all, for many decades, the arcade was not only an excellent venue to socialize with other gamers, but also play the latest games that weren’t possible on home consoles. Outside of Neo Geo, home consoles were deemed inferior to our beloved giant wooden behemoths for nearly two decades. One need only look at the Nintendo version of Donkey Kong or Atari version of Pac Man for proof of this. But, like many avenues of technology, personal consumer hardware eventually caught up. There was seemingly (but misguidedly) no need to shovel quarters into Donkey Kong when one could simply load up a 3D version of the ape’s escapades at their convenience. So arcades faded into the sunset and the ones that remained became ghost towns full of disillusioned adults trying to recapture their childhood. Try as they may, though, there is one genre that could never be perfectly replicated at home: racing. Sure, there’s beautifully rendered and deep titles in Gran Turismo, Forza and Need for Speed, but nothing can match the thrill of sitting in a racing seat, grabbing a steering wheel and putting the pedal to the metal — try and fail as peripheral manufacturers may. It makes sense, then, that one of the few remaining arcade manufacturers would focus almost exclusively on the genre. After the sheen and sleekness of super cars and powerboats, the next logical step is to get dirty.
While the titles of racing games are notorious for making promises of unfilled excitement (Thrash Rally, anyone?), “Dirty Drivin’” is about as perfect as they get for this Raw Thrills racer. Imagine Full Auto (you know, that Sega game everybody loved, then hated, but then loved again when they actually played it), Offroad Thunder and Mario Kart mixed together and topped off with a scoop of ridiculousness and you’ll get a good idea for what the game entails. In fact, like SnoCross (also released by Raw Thrills) is a redux of Arctic Rush, Dirty Drivin’ is in many ways a spiritual successor to Offroad Thunder. But don’t go thinking this is some past-its-prime generic racing title. No, this is a modern day, graphically intense assault on the senses complete with a 42” HD monitor and a Dell PC powering the action. Synonymous with its skull-wearing-a-helmet logo, the Dirty Drivin’ cabinet is the epitome of poor taste. This is the sort of arcade game you’d expect to see in hell (alongside Devil’s Advocate, I assume), complete with a fire-red plastic racing seat, a bunch of random instrument dials that have no meaning, 6.5 inch neon-blue light lined speakers, chrome detailing practically anywhere possible, a caution tape patterned bezel and four obnoxious flood lights over the screen. Oh, and skull shaped crank.
Of course, as it’s understood the gaudy design is meant to show its excessiveness, the cabinet is a thing a beauty that makes you feel like you’re playing the premiere game in the arcade — not a rarity for Raw Thrills. The game can either be played solo or with up to eight (yes, eight) cabs linked to each other. Seeing how this thing costs nearly eight-thousand dollars, however, we doubt you’ll see that action in any arcade. One much-appreciated feature the cabinet brings is a keypad-based player account system. This allows you to type in up to a ten-digit code (phone numbers work the best) that stores your player name, high scores, upgrades and achievements — yep, if you haven’t stepped in to an arcade in the past several years (you lonely bastard), arcade games now have chievos. Now, before you get too excited, they don’t do anything and nobody can see them unless they enter your pin or are looking over your shoulder, so they’re certainly not something you’ll get addicted trying to unlock — but they exist. And that’s something. Achievements mainly include placing high in races and methods that enemies were destroyed — which are plentiful.
If you hadn’t guessed already from the whole skeleton and caution tape theme, Dirty Drivin’ is not a traditional racer. This is an aggressive, balls to the wall gauntlet to knock out enemies the most creative ways possible. Races start with 21 vehicles, but outside of yourself and rivals, they disappear when destroyed. Power-ups are represented as question marks (sound familiar?) strewn throughout tracks and grant a random item when driven through. There’s some crazy weapons at play here, including the ability for tires to transform into monster truck tires with spikes, RC car transformation for increased speed and maneuverability and machine guns. Of course, much of the fun of it stems from their activation being carried out by pulling a large chrome crank with a skull topper. Try replicating that at home.
As promoted as the weapon system is, racing is the main draw and the game gives you ten different vehicles to do it in. Cars range from a Munster-mobile looking thing to a lowrider — all of which have a corresponding driver inside. Those with good taste will have a difficult time finding something that screams “you”, but it’s hard not to find humor in the designs. For a game so ridiculous in practically every aspect, it’s surprising that the racing mechanics are as solid as they are. Nothing has tight handling (which comes with the terriorty), but everything is responsive and tracks make it easy to corner without drifting or slowing down if proper care is taken throughout. Speaking of tracks, there are 14 of them at your disposal, ranging from demotion derbys with truckasaurus looking inventions to cruisin’ through an active volcano. The tracks are different enough to need their own strategies and creative enough to be worth delving into multiple time, which is a necessity for a worthwhile arcade racer.
While we’ve only showcased retro games so far in this feature, it’s nice to check out a game like Dirty Drivin’ every so often to prove that the arcade isn’t dead. Even though the genre and graphics can be had at home, the experience is impossible to replicate. While new arcade-style games have had a resurgence on mobile platforms and will sadly likely never see cabinets built for them again, it’s reassuring to know that a fantastic time can still be had at arcades that can’t be beat at home. And if that means a hundred more Raw Thrills racing games, so be it — well, so long as skeleton cranks are involved.
For more Raising ‘Cade, head right here.