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Splashdown Rides Gone Wild
Review By: Jared Black
 
Developer:  Rainbow Studios
Publisher:  THQ
# Of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  9-23-03

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 cool anyway.

Graphically, the PS2 holds up to the taxing demands placed on the engine by the morphing courses and fast gameplay well.  The water looks fantastic, and the course variations are appropriately vivid and stunning.  Smashing through barriers causes them to break in a realistic fashion, and there are a variety of other minor graphic tricks that only enhance the experience.  From a design standpoint the game looks a little on the cartoonish side (since the tracks are exaggerated versions of theme park rides), but it’s not terribly distracting on the whole.

Sound is somewhat mixed.  Character dialogue is lame, with plenty of uninspired one-liners and typical “dude” voices.  The music is OK, with a decent mix of somewhat popular and obscure licensed music.  I couldn’t help but think of last year’s Madden anytime I heard Audiovent’s “Energy” though, which was distracting and took away a bit from the experience. 

HIGHS:

  • Excellent water physics and fast racing action.
  • The courses are inventive, and truly a sight to behold the first few races through.
  • Lots of stuff to unlock.

LOWS:

  • I don’t like the fact that mastering the trick system is required for advancing to the higher levels of the racing modes, although I appreciate the motive (making players work for their accomplishments).  If nothing else, only require tricks in the Freestyle mode!
  • The characters are generic, and the lame voices don’t help.
  • Looooong load times almost everywhere.

FINAL VERDICT:

With a tighter focus on the racing aspect, Splashdown Rides Gone Wild could’ve been the first game to actually beat Wave Race 64 at it’s own game.  Instead, it falls slightly short of Nintendo’s classic.  Nevertheless, it’s an excellent racing game and comes highly recommended, especially for those without a GameCube or N64.

Overall Score: 8.5

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