Written on: 11/01/2006 by TOMLEECEE (121 reviews written)
Lots of stupid fun
Gets a bit difficult
Not a great deal of replay value
When you think about it, there haven't really been that many water based racing games over the years. The obvious one springs to mind - the one that defined the genre - the N64's seminal jet ski racer, Wave Race 64. However, since that was released in 1997, there has been almost a total lack of decent powerboat or jet ski games. And when I say almost, that means Hydro Thunder.
A pure arcade port, Hydro Thunder is the water based equivalent of something like San Francisco Rush - real world rules are flouted at every opportunity in order to deliver a garish, in your face adrenaline rush. As the name hints, Hydro Thunder is a powerboat racer. It's arcade roots are laid painfully bare by the most rudimentary of front ends - there's no menu music, just a ridiculously over the top voice over that announces every option you pick with the enthusiasm of Sesame Street game show host Guy Smilie. The aforementioned options are also very 'no frills' - you don't get any cups or challenge modes like you do in other race games, all you get is the choice to take part in a single race - finish in the required position depending on the difficulty of the track, and you'll open up the next stage. Talk about basic.
So, upon firing up the game for the first time you only have the 3 'easy' tracks available. Finish each one in the top 3 and you'll open up the next 3 'medium' tracks... finish those in the top two and you'll open up the 'hard' tracks and so on. There are 12 tracks in total, and each batch of 3 opens up a further 3 powerboats to use on them.
The power boats are all pretty similar in terms of handling, but just get a bit faster with each new set unlocked.
Hydro Thunder doesn't really impress though until you get past the amateurish menu screens. When the game proper actually starts, you will be pretty impressed - that's guaranteed. I'm reviewing the Dreamcast version here, but to be honest, the N64 version is pretty good looking too. The Tracks are all very vibrant with lots of detail packed into them. When the light goes green and you nail that throttle the boats all blast away from the starting line with blistering pace, and even though there is so much stuff packed into the background, it all screams past with a silky frame rate. The various circuits are all pretty stereotypical fare - the usual jungle, ice and cavern based levels make an appearance, as well as a few more inventive ones such as a post apocalyptic New York - complete with Planet of the Apes style Statue of Liberty. Others include a sort of ship graveyard, a trip through Greece (featuring the Parthenon, naturally) and a blast through Japan. There are numerous short cuts throughout each circuit, and they usually involve driving your boat up a ramp and over some sort of barrier, or sliding it across land - James Bond style.
Strewn across the water are nitro pick-ups, that when driven through fill up your power meter and induce your boat to transform into a turbo powered monster - usually by means of an extra engine unfolding from the back. Holding down the turbo button gives a constant speed boost and can give a considerable boost to your position. If you know the track well, its possible to collect all the nitro pick ups and just keep the boost button held down for the duration of the race.
I have touched briefly on the handling of the boats - they all handle pretty much the same, but when you spend most of your time either blasting it down straights or going over jumps it matters not a bit. The behaviour of the water isn't particularly realistic either, acting more like jelly than real water - your boat just sort of skims over it, bobbing and bouncing. The water isn't as realistic looking as Wave Race's either, and not even transparent in some areas, but it looks OK, and there are some brilliant open areas with vast reflections. Overall, the game looks very polished with loads going on, and all at high resolution.
So, if you fancy a quick adrenaline rush that's light on game play features, but heavy on high-speed spectacular fun, get hold of a copy of Hydro Thunder - you will not be disappointed.
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