Fortunately for Nintendo, the arrival of Wave Race 64
shortly after the launch of the N64 proved to be a wise move.
Not only was it the best racing game of the 32/64-bit generation
(just beating out WipEout XL), but it came at a time when
Nintendo desperately needed quality titles to reinforce it’s
“Quality over Quantity” mantra (which ultimately failed, but
that’s another story). The GameCube was the first of its
generation to get an excellent water racer (the
mildly-disappointing but still fun Wave Race: Blue Storm),
but Sony owners continued to be left out of the fun. Finally
their turn has arrived, as Splashdown Rides Gone Wild (SRGW)
is (to me anyway, since I never played the first Splashdown)
the first true challenger to Wave Race’s crown.
As one would imagine, any water racer contending for Wave Race’s
crown must have three key ingredients: a good sense of speed, a
fluid trick system, and most importantly excellent water physics.
SRGW has all of these, although I have a minor complaint with the
integration of the trick system that I’ll discuss later.
SRGW offers up a variety of different tracks (45 in all), spanning a
variety of locales both indoors and outdoors. The outdoor tracks
are thematically based off of popular amusement park rides,
including a pirate track, ice track, dinosaur track, etc.
Impressively, these tracks are in an almost-constant state of
morphing throughout each race. The second and third laps around
each track are often very different from the first-time around, as
new paths will be created by a variety of environmental factors (ex:
dinosaurs crossing), shortcuts will be discovered, water levels will
vary, and other inventive events will reshape the action. Each
track is laid out intelligently, offering plenty of chances to catch
“big air” and pull off advanced tricks. Mix all of this together
with some very realistic (and drastic) water physics, and you’ve got
a fast, challenging, and fun racing experience.
At some point the player will naturally know each track by heart,
and then success will depend on how well the game controls and how
fast the player goes. This is where the game falters a bit, as
mastering the trick system is necessary in order to advance
at the higher difficulty levels. This is because speed is tied into
the Performance Meter, which is filled by successfully pulling off
stunts. Pull off a Tier 1 trick, and the meter will fill up roughly
one block. This continues through Tier 2 & 3 tricks, which are
built off of performing lower tricks. To pull off a Tier 3 trick,
the player must first perform a Tier 1, then add a Tier 2 to that,
then finally add the Tier 3 to that while still in the air. The
trick system differs from Wave Race’s in that it’s a button
combination fest like the Street Fighter series (or Tony
Hawk), versus Wave Race’s more “real” approach. Luckily SRGW
lets the player pull off most of Wave Race’s tricks as well (like
barrel rolls) through a similar approach, although these don’t add
much to the player’s performance meter and are thus more for fun
then anything. On the whole I’m not a big fan of trick systems in
racing games (I’d prefer to just race), and thus I found it somewhat
difficult to advance to higher levels of the game without working at
it quite a bit. Not that it’s a bad thing to make the player earn
accomplishments, but to me racing games are more about instant
gratification then most genres and as a result it was frustrating.
I just wanted to tear through the courses at top speeds without
having to worry about whether I pushed the left button once or twice
while also holding down R1.
I have a few other minor complaints, such as the A.I. being too
aggressive at times, the camera sometimes not capturing a good angle
for the action, and the lack of a true first person view. None of
these impacts gameplay that often though.
The game’s modes include a decent Training mode, Career, Arcade
(which includes a Freestyle competition, Time Trials, etc.), Vs.,
and Warehouse. The Career mode allows the player to race through a
series of courses (either outdoor or indoor), with varying amounts
of continues and points needed to advance. One thing I like a lot
is that a saved Career mode is automatically deleted from the memory
card when it’s continued, meaning that players cannot quit and
restart ad nauseum until they finally beat it. The Warehouse
is where players can buy a variety of unlockables with the points
earned in the game, including wetsuits, paint jobs, characters,
courses etc. The cosmetic unlockables are mostly useless, but look