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Wave Race Blue Storm

I can safely say that I’ve sunk more hours into Wave Race 64 than any other racing game outside of Super Mario Kart. I went into it with no expectations and was completely blown away. Who would have thought a sequel to a little known Game Boy title would be one of the most stunning games of that generation? So of course when Wave Race Blue Storm was announced they had my immediate attention. Although it doesn’t stray far from what made its predecessor great (it is a racing game after all) Blue Storm is a more than worthy follow-up to its legendary predecessor.

Right off the bat it is obvious the game has been significantly expanded. The roster of competitors has doubled to eight which has a major impact on the game’s championship and stunt modes. Now each character is rated in five different categories so that you can see where there strengths lie. There’s a wide spectrum in terms of performance with the likes of Ryota and Akari being perfect for beginners while Serena and David Mariner have steep learning curves in order to bring out their best.  Every character leans towards a particular stat and it has a substantial impact on the game’s handling.

There are a number of subtle additions to the controls that can affect your performance and help shave seconds off the clock or boost you to number 1. Both L & R allow you to lean and make sharper turns while B will crouch and build speed, perfect for straightaways. The Turbo you get from passing the buoys correctly can be used for a quick burst of speed as well. While you can ignore some of these mechanics on the harder difficulties they are practically essential. You can still customize the tightness of the handling and whether your jet ski will prioritize acceleration or top speed but they don’t feel as tangible as in Wave Race 64. I’ll admit that adjusting to the tightness of the controls here was difficult at first; I’ve dumped hundreds of hours into the N64 game so I think my initial reaction was always going to be biased. But once I tooled around the tracks in Free Run I began to appreciate the added nuances and can see why they are such a great fit.

There are a wealth of modes to keep anyone entertained for many hours. Championship is the game’s heart and soul and has been overhauled. With double the competitors the number of qualifying points is stricter but it also allows for some room for error. The three difficulty settings take place over the course of 5, 6, and 7 days with each day comprising one race. Rather than following a set path you can select which is to your benefit as certain tracks are a nightmare depending on the weather. This allows you to save the tougher courses for clear days that are simpler. Overall the difficulty is pretty steep as the game throws you in the deep end after the initial exhibition round. It will definitely behoove you to tool around each track in the Free Run mode to learn their intricacies. The Stunt Mode returns with a slew of new tricks to perform but is also subject to the bump in difficulty. The tutorial mode will teach you how to perform each trick but actually performing them when it counts is a true test of skill. All of these modes can also be enjoyed with up to four players this time around as well.

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The water physics are already pretty astounding but what truly adds another dimension to the game is the weather system. The five weather conditions (Cloudy with slight rain, clear skies, partly cloudy, rainy, and thunderstorm) have drastic efforts on the water levels, visibility, and even the height of the waves. Ocean City Harbor is already challenging with its tightly packed buoy placement but a rainstorm will cause huge waves that can send you crashing into walls. Rain is completely bad as it can even be beneficial; Aspen Lake has huge boulders that need to navigated around but with a rise in water they are submerged. What’s even cooler is that the system is dynamic and will change from one lap to the next. Although there are only eight tracks the weather adds a huge amount of variation and even the difficulty you select will open up new routes and such.

As much as I do like the dynamics the differing weather bring to the table it is still true that the game can feel more like an expansion pack than a true sequel. Of the eight courses Dolphin Park and Southern Island are exactly the same as their Nintendo 64 counterparts. Aspen Lake and Ocean City Harbor draw strong parallels to Drake Lake and Twilight City. The graphical facelift certainly does help to make them feel new but it is still disappointing that almost half the content feels like a rehash.

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Naturally with the move to the GameCube the graphics are amazing. The chunky character models have been completely overhauled and actually resemble human beings rather than lego blocks stitched together. There is far more track side detail and even under the water there is a vast amount of sea life that truly brings the tracks to life. There’s a greater variety in the locations you’ll visit plus the varying weather completely changes the tone as well as look of each course. The lighting and actual fog effects are still astounding to this day and the frame rate is locked at 30 with almost zero drops, even in multiplayer. Truly impressive stuff.

The game’s water is both impressive and a bit disappointing. The transparent water and perfect reflections on its surface are just…exquisite. These reflections also warp and distort in sync with the wakes the jet skis kick up which goes to show the attention to detail the designers put in. However the cool specular lighting of Wave Race 64 is gone and its absence is definitely noticeable. The clear water looks nice but also seems a bit too perfect. If you look close you’ll spot a number of low resolution textures scattered about and the riders themselves feel flat and undefined. These sacrifices were probably made to keep the frame rate so steady and in that respect they’ve succeeded.

The synth music of Wave Race 64 has given way to a more contemporary rock soundtrack that isn’t to my liking. There’s a great deal of music here but a lot of the tracks are simple remixes of the core 10-15 songs. Each character has their own announcer, no doubt thanks to the added disc space and they are all just as exuberant as the first game.

Despite being a GameCube launch title Wave Race Blue Storm still held the title as the best water based racing game of the generation. While it doesn’t reach the same height as its predecessor it is an excellent sequel and a game that is definitely worth tracking down.

8-out-of-101

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Wave Race 64

Hype is an inescapable part of the video game industry.  Whether it is a developer extolling the virtues of their latest creation to game journalists struggling to put into words how awesome a new product they’ve just seen is, we are all guilty of falling for it.  New console launches are when these events are at their peak.  We can all remember the PS2 hype and how it played a part in killing the Dreamcast.  But arguably the N64 played host to even bigger launch promises, such as being a Silicon Graphics Workstation in console form.  It fell far short of those expectations but still we wanted to believe.  Why?  Because of games like Wave Race 64.

Wave Race 64 was released as a near launch title for the N64 in the US.  Previously demoed at Nintendo’s annual Shoshinkai show in 1995 it would emerge some months later in a completely new form, ditching the Speedboats from the original gameboy game (bet you didn’t know about that) for riders on Jet skis.  The change made little difference as the game was and is absolutely phenomenal, with a wealth of game modes and tracks to plow through.

You have a choice between 4 riders with their own stats in 3 categories.  These can be manually edited to create the feel you want to an extent.  Championship pits you in a race against 3 opponents as you accrue points needed to qualify for the next race.  3 opponents does not sound like much but it will make you shit a brick when you are in 4th and in danger of disqualifying.

Depending on the difficulty the amount of points needed to progress increases as well as adding new tracks to the race, giving you further incentive to move ahead.  Stunt mode lets you show off your tricks for points, and I freely admit to losing any skill I once had in it.  The tracks unlocked can be taken for a test drive in Warm up mode and Time Trial.  Memorizing the layouts will only get you so far as the accurate water physics represent the other side of the picture for each race.

The water does a lot more than simply look pretty.  Depending on the track, difficulty, and racer chosen your handling will be affected, giving you something else to consider besides the other racers.  The way the jet skis bob and weave along the surface of the water, cut into the waves as you turn or even skid on ice is simply unparalleled, even to this day.  As you build up speed itwill also play a factor in how the water will affect your handling.  The tracks change dynamically as time passes, with once blocked off track elements opening up to reveal shortcuts that come with equal parts risk and reward.

Kicking up the difficulty  enriches the tracks with more buoys to pass, spikes to knock you off your jet ski and a bump in the CPU rider’s driving prowess.  There are no cheap gimmicks used, they’ll simply bump you more aggressively and actively use shortcuts as they open up.  In addition water conditions become more erratic with far more big waves to ride and currents that will throw you around.  They almost become new tracks and enhance the fun factor as you familiarize yourself with buoy layouts.

Back in 1996 no home console game looked like this.

A lot of promises were made about the N64’s graphical prowess and while the system did not live up to the lofty expectations placed on it games like Wave Race made everyone forget.  Wave Race was a virtual revelation, with ridiculous transparencies and previously impossible water.  The weather conditions change as time passes setting the mood for the courses, such as the setting sun of Sunset Bay or the night lights of Twilight City.  Watching the fog part and seeing the perfect reflections on the surface of the water of Drake Lake is still magical nearly 20 years later.  The only sub par element would be the blocky character models but you aren’t even paying attention to those lamers anyway.  It took many years for the water in this game to be surpassed, a testament to the creator’s craftsmanship.

This is still one of the best racing games ever made.  When you think about it it seems really stupid that very few racing games on water had been made.  Nintendo kind of ruined it for everyone else by setting the bar so high but we as gamers ultimately benefited.  Its funny to think that concerns were raised that because of cartridge space there wouldn’t be enough content to satiate gamers when this game had more to offer than 3 or 4 of the racing games of the time combined.  A masterpiece however you slice it.

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