Review by Michael Kelehan
Fun and challenging, good for any racing fan.
Few people remember the original Wave Race, a top-down racer that was one of the last monochrome Game Boy games. There are many, however, that hold fond memories of Wave Race 64, its Nintendo 64 counterpart. Developed by Nintendo's American development group, Nintendo Software Technology, Wave Race Blue Storm for the Gamecube is more or less an upgraded WR64. But Nintendo put more than just a new coat of paint on this series, and the result is a package that any racing fan would be proud to own.
As the title suggests, Wave Race is all about racing Jet Skis. You guide your racer through one of seven courses, weaving through colored buoys. Red buoys need to be passed on the right, while yellow ones need to be passed on the left. The placement of these buoys means that while a course may look simple, you'll actually have to do a lot of turning, keeping things interesting. Passing five buoys in a row stocks you a turbo boost, but missing any five in one race disqualifies you entirely. Since you can miss four without losing the race, sometimes it can be beneficial to skip a few towards the end of the race and jet right for the goal, while your opponents have to bank and swerve to cross them all. This adds a light, welcome element of strategy to the game.
The kids today demand 3D race courses on their consoles, and you may think that with water courses, you'll be racing around a flat area. That's hardly the case. The game has weather ranging from sunny to stormy, yielding anything from tiny insignificant waves to monsters taller than any human. Deciding how to take an oncoming wave, and how to modify your turns because of it, forces you to stay on your toes and keeps things interesting.
Control is pretty much spot-on. The game recommends that you press B to duck and bring yourself close to the water, and press Z to use turbo boosts. That's well and good, but you can also accomplish those tasks with the Y and X buttons respectively, and that feels much more natural. There are also all sorts of tricks you can do, either in Stunt Mode for points or in a race to show off.
Although the game only has seven total courses, there are three difficulty levels. Tracks change depending on the level, changing routes and obstacles and maybe even the direction you're racing. Some tracks even change in between laps, with icebergs falling apart and water levels rising or falling. This can feel like you're racing in an entirely different course, but still, you can't help but wonder if the small number of courses is because this game was rushed to meet the system's launch.
If you're looking for a good challenge, here it is. Other games call their difficulty levels Easy, Medium, and Hard, but this game uses a more honest Normal, Hard, and Expert. Other racers are very aggressive, and beating even the first difficulty setting requires some real skill. Fortunately, you can get a hang of the Jet Skis in Free Roam mode, a great mode for beginners. It'll take you a while to beat Expert, and when you finally do, you're likely to boot the game up every few months for a few races.
Multiplayer is exactly what you'd expect. Since this game is so skill-based, it's not as pick-up-and-play as, say, Mario Kart, but if you and a friend or two have spent a lot of time with the game, you can have some real fun here. Online play would've helped, of course, but this was 2001, when Nintendo was still thumbing their noses at the whole online concept. There also aren't really any unlockables, other than three of the courses and the higher difficulty levels.
The game looks good, sounds good. Courses are beautiful, the water looks real, and the music is very fitting. I don't think anyone will be disappointed in the superficialities of this one, but it won't replace Resident Evil 4 as your show-off game. Still, of all the Gamecube launch games, this one may be the prettiest.
Since Wave Race is a few years old, it can be found fairly cheap new, and even cheaper used. It's not the best game ever, but any racing fan would be wise to grab it.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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