You have your own boat that youíve spent thousands of dollars on and endless months building it out of state-of-the-art racing materials. Youíve won more races than you can count. Youíre at the top of the international racing game. Nobody can come close. You long for a challenge. One day you receive a letter from something called the Hydro Thunder Racing Association, saying you have been selected as a member of the H.T.R.A, and with it is a map for the next secret race. Welcome to Hydro Thunder.
Now than Iíve given you the background, lets see what makes this game what it is.
In Hydro Thunder, you race against 16 other racers all in top of the line boats. What makes these boats top of the line? First, speed. These boats go incredibly fast. And as if they didnít go fast enough by themselves, there are "boost" icons spread throughout the level that allow you to go even faster after collecting then holding down the A button. Second, the Hydro Jump. The hydro jump is performed by holding the accelerate button, letting go and pressing brake button, then letting go of that and holding down the boost button. This will make your boat bounce up into the air, allowing you to reach secret areas and boostís otherwise out of reach. Last, but not least, is the Might Hull. The mighty hull becomes active after holding down the boost button for a small amount of time. The boat begins to flash, thatís when the mighty hull becomes active, and when you collide into another boat it sends them soaring. Some boats have a slower mighty hull activation time, while other have quicker times. There are 9 boats and 13 tracks overall.
Control in Hydro Thunder is perfect, couldnít be better. The Dreamcast controller works 100% with this game. The R trigger button makes you accelerate L trigger is used as the brakes, A button uses the boost, and Y changes the camera angle. Controlling in Hydro Thunder is a pleasure. The boats control very smoothly, as they should, opposite a cars bumpy ride. I never once felt that the controls were too stiff, or not precise enough to allow you pull off hair thin turns or dodge obstacles. You will be able to master any boat within a few races around the track. It will take more than a few tries though to master the hydro jump. You really want to be able to perform that without a second thought, because in almost all races it could be the difference between winning and losing.
I didnít like the interface much though, it seemed so PC? The main menu allows you to access 1 player, 2 players, your VMS, options, and high scores with different icons. Accessing everything is easy, but it still looks ugly.
Even still, the graphics are awesome. Hydro Thunder has the best water effects in any game to date. There is no pop up what so ever, and there isnít any fog in sight except for when there is supposed to be. Everything in this game is vastly detailed; boats, objects, backgrounds, everything. Like I just said, the water effects are just amazing. Reflections from the surroundings and clouds appear with crystal clear quality, youíll be stunned with the amount of detail these stages contain. Its kind of like looking in a brochure for a trip to Hawaii, in the pictures the water is crystal clear and a pleasant blue color, with all kinds of beautiful fish swimming peacefully about. The treeís and other plant life are a brilliant green, and the sky shining sunny and bright without a hint of distortion. Thatís exactly how you will feel when racing through some of Hydro Thunderís stages, race in Lost Paradise and youíll fully agree with me. Level design is top-notch; you really have to credit Midway for being the creative masters they are. There are load of secret passages and short cuts in each stage, which help the replay value a lot. Its really fun racing against a friend and taking a short cut to get ahead of them. It also gives the stages more variety.
The sound fits the game just right. I thought the sound effects were great. Each boat makes a different engine sound, the sound of you hitting the water from a jump or crashing against an object or another boat is right on target. Whatís even more amazing is the difference in stages, each stage gives you the feeling of being in a different place than the last race because of their unique sounds. When in a cave or a tunnel, there is a low echo, when soaring through the air everything sounds like its going by fast. Even the announcer wonít annoy you, like in many racers out there. Instead he gives a little support and opinion, with lines like " sharp turn coming up". You also have to give a lot of credit to the music, it is simply fantastic and goes superb with the stage.
Everything looks great so far, but in fact its not as good as it seems. There is a tremendous amount of slowdown when in the 2-player mode. There is more slowdown then there is smooth 60fps gameplay. Itís like the opposite of the 1 player game. In the one player game, slowdown to about 25-30 fps shows up once in a while when there is a lot of action happening at once. In 2-player mode, the game only speeds up when there is little happening on the screen. To tell you the truth, because of this I hate the 2-player mode. It makes it almost unbearable. When Iím racing against a friend, I like blistering fast speeds. I hated when the game would slow to a jog while I was trying to pass up my competition; it made the gameplay downright boring.
There is also a lack of types of games to play. All you have to choose from is a 1 or 2 player mode. This isnít too bad, but more options would have been greatly appreciated. Like a tournament mode or time trial mode. Or even a practice mode to let you take a spin around the tracks in stead of having to go right to the races with a timer going each time. This is actually a big flaw. Because mastering a boat isnít as easy in a race, and since your required to find each short cut and secret passage in the game in order to get a passing position, it makes it really hard.
This also brings me to tell about the difficulty. This game is HARD. Probably one of the hardest (while still being fair) racing games you have played. Your competition is really good, they will try and screw you whenever the opportunity comes up. But that isnít what makes this game hard, thatís just good AI, itís the tracks. The only way to get into a 2nd or 1st place position in the medium and up tracks is by finding all the short cuts to get ahead. And I find this very annoying. Instead of being able to just use good skills to win, you have to practically memorize each stage to know where every boost or shortcut is.
Ok, so right now this game seems like a mixed bag right? Well, Iím happy to say this is actually a very good game. Your just gonna have to put a lot of time into it, and donít even think of buying it for fun multiplayer sessions. If you have patience, time, and a good memory, you wont fell as bad about any of the downfalls as much as I do. Itís a good racing game, and thatís the bottom line.
Review By: Sean L.