With many apologies for the delay, Justin Nation gives the lowdown on Wave Race for the GameCube.
Wave Race: Blue Storm is a subtle shift from the classic that either took the hearts of gamers on the N64 or left them feeling soggy about the whole experience. In that regard, the sequel is very similar. Some will praise the game for being inventive, a wholly different racing experience from what you’ll find anywhere else (aside from other systems, where even arcade ‘wave racing’ games are mere racing games on a blue track in comparison) , and a pure joy to behold. Others will be critical of the game for a lack of tracks, a less-than-60-fps frame rate, and difficult controls. With that in mind, off we go to the specifics.
Graphically, if one can forgive the fact that the game runs at a “mere” 30 frames per second without a hitch (even in multi-player) there isn’t terribly much to complain about. Simply put, the game’s environments are colorful, surprisingly detailed, and nicely varied from one another. Luckily, where the real effort was put in though was in the water and not the trappings around it. When the weather is clear the water becomes almost glass-like, letting you see either the ocean floor complete with colorful coral reefs or even swimming fish or other aquatic creatures. This, of course, is in addition to the subtle reflections you’ll find coming off the water as well, often causing collisions early on when they draw your attention away from where you’re going. When the weather picks up the water becomes much less beautiful certainly, but then as the rain or snow comes down around you, your screen will get a steady flow of large droplets hitting it, or even splashes partially obstructing your view, sucking you in to the experience. Without a doubt the visual stars of this show are both the weather and the water itself, combining into a number of variations that will continue to periodically surprise and astound you with new twists.
In terms of sound many of the ‘novel’ features of the original have faithfully been ported over, and for gamers like me that isn’t really a good thing. While there now isn’t a single voice to annoy you with comments as you pass every buoy, each racer still must tolerate their various crew chiefs filling that same role over and over now. The best news is that the voice in the game can be turned down nice and low or even shut off, allowing you to enjoy the game in peace. Annoying announcers and other voices aside the game sound is adequate but not terribly awe-inspiring either.
It is in the area of control that you’ll most likely see a separation of the lovers from the haters. Wave Race has a certain learning curve in terms of control, especially when it comes to being able to maneuver well enough to beat the Expert circuit in the game. Without a doubt one must have almost perfect control in order to win at this game as the weather gets rougher and the competition begins handling their jet-skis with more and more precision. It is as the game gets harder that the newly introduced ‘turbo boost’ also becomes less of a novelty and more of a thing of strategy. In the early circuits you’re probably better not using it but as the competition gets tougher you will find it is absolutely necessary to strategically use boosts in conjunction with deliberately missing markers in order to gain some precious seconds on your competition. Another major trick to this game is picking a racer whose style is closest to your own and then getting down the nuances of control with that character. Starting out with one of the more generic racers is highly recommended, advanced racers often are faster and stronger but their control can be maddening unless you’ve got the touch for their specific turning style. Fail to control your racer well and this game will become nothing but a source of frustration. Then again, gamers are always complaining games are too easy… you very likely won’t find ‘ease’ in your vocabulary concerning this game even after you’ve beaten it.
This brings us to gameplay and the meat of what makes the game so special. With Wave Race you can never claim that you’ve truly mastered any given track. With various weather conditions possible on any track and the waves being generated randomly in different patterns every time you hit the water, no two races are likely to ever be much alike. You could easily blow by the competition for a big win in one race and then get thrown around badly enough that you can barely manage to come out in the middle of the pack the next. There aren’t any races in the more advanced levels that are a guaranteed win, especially since not only do the weather conditions get more complicated as you go but the buoy positions on each track also become less and less convenient. By the time you’ve hit Expert mode you will likely curse whoever imagined the unholy configurations of racing markers on the tracks as in some cases you will be expected to weave through rocks and other hazards, making the game much more difficult. All in all, while the track selection isn’t all that extensive, there is some added value in the fact that the layouts will change and become more challenging. Speaking of Expert mode and tough races, this is the mode where the heavens will open up and drop a ton of hurt on you depending on which track you decide to take your lumps on. Make no mistake, when the forces of nature are unleashed on you in this game, you will struggle no matter how great a racer you are. You will be forced to miss buoys, you will be thrown around like a rag doll, and if you’re a true racing fan you will fall in love with the worst conditions the game has to offer you. While the chop could get rough in the original title, there’s no doubting that tsunami mode in Blue Storm will rock your world much harder than it has ever been rocked.
Even with all that there is good to say about the title though, you must inevitably come to dwell on the few notable shortcomings that can be found. First, while one could argue all great games don’t offer quite enough, in this game’s case people familiar with the original will feel somewhat rightfully short-changed. While all of the tracks are well designed and the alternate layouts of the buoys add to the spice of things, it is still easy to walk away wanting there to have been maybe two more tracks, or maybe more tracks that were more original. NST took the safe route and converted the majority of tracks in the game from the originals with just a few tweaks here and there. This lended quite a bit to a “been there, done that” vibe in the game and that’s an unnecessary shame. Another flaw in the game, pointed out moreso after the launch of Super Smash Brothers Melee, is the lack of motivation to do much more than complete the circuits. Stunt mode is novel but without any real motivation to get a great score in it, most people will undoubtedly ignore the mode entirely. Could there be an extra racer, a special outfit, something to give people a little push? Nope. While the mode is fun, this lack of incentive really makes it more thrown in than as an extra something you can count on everyone playing let alone enjoying.
A final flaw in the game though is mostly the similarity it has to its classic predecessor, and the fact that it does too little to differentiate itself in the end. If Blue Storm were an original game it would blow the roof off the house. Unfortunately, as a sequel to a classic from the N64 it isn’t too much more then a tweaked and visually improved version of the same game. Given a little more time maybe there could have been some added revelations and changes that could have been made to make Blue Storm more of a classic in its own right; regardless of its few shortcomings though it is still an outstanding game and well worth owning.