Review by Christendo

"Don your wet-suit, Wave Race is back! But how does it compare to it's N64 predecessor?"

Don your wet-suit, Wave Race is back! But how does it compare to it's N64 predecessor?

The original Wave Race caused more than a splash when it debuted on the Nintendo 64 back in 1996. Never before had a water-based racer been pulled off successfully, and with such majesty. Featuring impeccable wave physics and tight controls, it became an instant all-time classic racer. And rightly so. Now, five years on, Wave Race is back in the form of Wave Race: Blue Storm, from Seattle based developer NST. And you know what, I think they've excelled Nintendo's efforts.

Gameplay

Upon boot-up you'll become instantly familiar with some of Wave Race: Blue Storm's gameplay modes if you played the original - including championship, stunt mode, multiplayer, and the all important time trial. However, you'll find some not so familiar options amongst these, including a neat tutorial mode, which helps you to get to grips with Wave Race: Blue Storm's control system and stunts, and a free run mode which allows you to explore the courses at your own will, and hopefully find out some of the course's many shortcuts and alternate routes in the process. You will also see some familiar faces in the eight strong cast of riders, namely the over-weight David Mariner. Blue Storm also sees an appearance from a number of the 1080° Snowboarding cast - including the trick-happy Ricky Winterborn.

Races, alongside fighting of your competitors, require you to weave in-and-out of buoys strategically placed throughout the course, and at the same time avoid hazards that come in the form of rocks, falling crates and icebergs - all of this you'll have to take into consideration when racing one of the eight courses Blue Storm has to offer.

Wave Race: Blue Storm is without a doubt one of the hardest racers currently on the market to master, even more so than the N64 original. Partly this is due to the fact the wave conditions play a bigger part, and vary considerably in Blue Storm than Wave Race 64, meaning you will have to adopt a certain control style depending on how severe the wave conditions are. For example in choppy waters you will have to learn to gently nudge the analogue stick in order to keep your rider on-course after taking a knock from a large wave. Don't get me wrong, the riders themselves are very responsive, it just takes some time before you feel at home and comfortable with the controls.

NST has also upped your competitors AI, meaning they are just a eager to pass the finish line in fist place as you are, making for very competitive races, and plenty of those 'getting past the finish line by the skin of your teeth' moments.

NST has added a nifty little 'boost' gauge too. Each time you successfully pass round a buoy, or pull-off a stunt, the 'boost' gauge will gradually power-up. Once fully charged, you can then activate it with a tap of the Z button, sending you cascading across the waves, leaving a cloud of water spray in your wake.

Another impressive aspect to Blue Storm that NST has managed to implement, is the varying weather conditions. Besides looking mighty impressive, they also effect the way the game plays. Ranging from sunny, foggy, overcast to heavy downpour, each condition changes the behaviour of the surrounding water depending on the severity of the climate. In heavy rain, for example, you won't only have to overcome the poor visibility, but also keep your jet-ski under control when a sweeping wave takes you off course.

Wave Race: Blue Storm is somewhat of a mixed bag in the longevity department. On one hand it's an incredibly complex game, with plenty of gameplay modes to keep you busy. On the other, it can be almost too challenging, and once you have opened up the additional courses and routes through extensive play in championship mode, you've more or less seen everything Blue Storm has to offer. However, thankfully Blue Storm does offers a great stunt and time trial mode. In fact, I found myself returning to these modes more so than any other, just because it's so rewarding to beat your previous high-score.

Graphics

From the off-set, Wave Race: Blue Storm just doesn't stop failing to impress. Apart from the undeniably eye-popping water physics, the rider's animation has been drastically improved over its N64 predecessor. Now, riders really do look as though they are struggling to keep balance atop of their jet-skis, and will even bend their legs after they come crashing down after riding the crest of a wave, or the slightest change in water altitude.
Courses come in a wide variety, each with their own unique attributes. Ranging from clear scenic country rivers, sunny beach resorts, to dark hazardous harbour waters - each and everyone one of them are of a high graphical standard. Albeit, in places some of the surroundings seem somewhat overly bright in the colour department, leading to an almost cartoony look. Shame.

Besides the obvious eye-candy on offer, Wave Rave: Blue Storm has many other neat touches that may be overlooked by the less observant gamer. For example, on the Lost Temple Lagoon course, you may or may not have noticed a number of exotic animals by the water's edge - including animated polygonal elephants and giraffes. What's more, on the Dolphin Park training course you'll see herds of seagulls passing overhead, and even tortoises and coral reef as you dive beneath the crystal-clear water, which all adds to that truly authentic feel that NST clearly have got down to a t.

NST has also successfully pulled off a four player mode, which zips along without a hint of slowdown, running at an impressive 30fps throughout. However, to experience the full potential of this mode, I advise you play on a large TV.

Sound

Another major (and I mean major), improvement Blue Storm has managed to successfully excel, is the sound department. The music is a mixture of rock, techno, and drum n' bass, and on the whole it is a pleasing audio experience - minus some of the nasty guitar riffs.
Sound effects are equally ear-friendly, and with a decent sound system or pair of headphones, you will hear every wave crash, every jet-ski engine roar, and ultimately you will truly feel as though you are there. Possibly the only criticism is that your racer's commentator can be extremely off-putting, and after the 5th 'you're supposed to go around the buoys', it begins to get plain irritating.

Conclusion

Wave Race: Blue Storm is a remarkable feat, and has once again raised the bar several notches higher in the water-based racer genre. However, Wave Race: Blue Storm doesn't come without its faults. I find it hard to pin-point exactly what is wrong with Blue Storm, but there's something that's definitely missing. I think it's down to the fact that it doesn't have that pick-up-and-play value that the Wave Race 64 had. Blue Storm is an extremely difficult game to get to grips with, and you'll find yourself literally pulling your hair out trying to advance to the next course at times, especially on the harder difficulties. Also the lack of a handicap in multiplayer mode is a noteworthy point to consider. If you play against a friend who's a Wave Race novice, it can lead to some extremely tiresome races, which could have so easily been fixed with the inclusion of this feature. That said, Blue Storm is graphically sublime, and also it's worth remembering that no other racer out there is quite like Blue Storm, and it's unlikely any other water-based racer will better Blue Storm until development begins on the next instalment.

So, is it worth your hard earned cash or not? Well the simple answer is, yes, and no. Wave Race: Blue Storm is a worthy successor to the original, and is on the whole an exceptionally well polished title. If you enjoyed Wave Race 64, then there's no doubt you will enjoy Blue Storm. If you're a Wave Race virgin, however, then it could be a case of 'try before you buy'. I must admit I enjoyed it, and after a lot of sweat and tears I think I've managed to become a Blue Storm veteran, pulling off an array of fancy tricks, and shaving micro-seconds of my time trial records. There's no denying, there is fun to be had in this title, but with just a little more development time NST could have had a masterpiece on their hands.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/25/02, Updated 01/25/02


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