Review by Destination

Reviewed: 12/13/04 | Updated: 12/13/04

The Water is Just Fine

Something barely seen in today’s gaming environment are the realistic racing games. Titles that are devoid of rocket launchers and hyper plasma cannons are a thing of the past. Just looking attentively at the release list for the next generation consoles makes that all too apparent. However, in the quiet beginnings of the classic 64 bit era was Wave Race 64, a serene and submerged Jet Ski racer devoid of the flashy gimmicks and the overrated action attachment. Despite its dated and simplistic nature, it was known for brilliantly responsive controls and mechanics that make it feel like you are right on the ocean front. Though it may not be a recognizable choice for parties, there is enough here for any old-school gamer to wrap their fingers around.

Reflecting back, I can easily recall joy-riding the stand-up vehicles around on the waters, with resplendent three dimensional visuals that I had never seen before. Weaving my character in and out and every which way, to avoid the numerous buoys and menacing wave patterns of Marine Fortress. All the while, not having to worry about getting hit with a projectile from behind or running out of fuel. Just something that I could enjoy on a weekend afternoon, to escape the constant turmoil of the school days. The charm can not only be felt from the freedom, but also the perfectly formulated play modes the game provides.

Several distinct stage circuits and options define what Wave Race 64 was all about and each held traits that made them unique. Encompassing virtually every realm in the watery paradise is the Championship mode, each with the recallable: easy, normal, and expert difficulty settings. You have four character choices, ranging from the above average R. Hayami to the absolutely terrible D. Mariner. Which brings me to point out one ongoing detriment…there are not enough good drivers. Each one of these four has something that makes them slightly more efficient. Whether it is better handling, faster speed, or stronger durability -- unfortunately only one person simply does it better than everyone else, M. Jeter. No, not Derek Jeter, but then again it would have been nice to have a bit more of a selection. With minor quirks aside, the beautiful levels and balanced challenge all build to form a remarkably satisfying formula.

There are nearly ten different environments that you will be driving through, from foggy lakes to rough oceans. It is these weather effects that will make the racing circuits difficult, as you try to defeat the three other participants. This is done by way of a Mario Kart style point system, and you will need a certain number of points, per round, to advance. Aside from the traditional standard of staying ahead of your opponents, there is also the factor of flag sweeping. Throughout the course there are several markers set up, that you will have to follow; be it staying to the left or the right of each one. Only a few mistakes are permitted before you can go swim with the dolphins at the bottom of the deep.

Now, despite the obvious lack of weapon arrays, you do possess the ability to gain a quick advantage during races. Speed and trick boost icons are available to help you upgrade your vehicle into a star studded ass kicker. While it is not really necessary to show off in the racing competition, I found it fun just rubbing it in their faces. The best way to do this though, is test running the one feature that encompasses all of the charm in this title, the Stunt mode. Though there is not an enormous list of pointless tricks to be found as in many snowboarding titles; Wave Race 64 accomplishes it well by hitting all of the basics flawlessly. Whether it is back-flipping after hitting an enormous wave or barrel rolling through that hovering ring, there is something satisfying in seeing that score continue to rise. Around twenty options are laid out on the table for you to hit, and the excellent control scheme will allow you to perform them without frustration. This relaxed me like nothing else, as I had gone through enough Nintendo 64 controllers…damn brittle analog stick. Oh, and just like every single solitary racer in existence, there is a time trial mode too. So, you can rack up that unbeatable time and post it on the Internet for others to drool at.

Even though it is a very entertaining play while home alone, there is a reason I could not get anyone to play this little number at parties -- the multi-player sucks. This accusation derives from the fact that the game only sports a two player mode. Making things worse, you can only battle it out in a traditional race format. Had a few more choices been available, such as; a multi-man stunt feature or an allowance of four players, the replay value could have skyrocketed. It is obvious this was probably cut out due to time constraints, but with implementation, maybe my friends could have played something aside from Goldeneye once in a while.

Alongside the wonderfully executed game-play, reside some of the most enjoyable graphic effects seen on the system. From the beautifully rendered sunsets to the realistic wave patterns, Wave Race 64 definitely takes advantage of the Nintendo 64’s capabilities. However, this area falters in the division of character models. Each rider differs only from the color of their suits and their blocky body models don’t help either. The vehicles can also create a little clipping sometimes when they hit the water which, at times, will make you feel like you are riding a hover bike. Nonetheless, there is just so much to absorb from the surroundings that I can safely say the visuals are stunning. The sound department does not disappoint either, with realistic weather sounds and jazzy music themes. All which build to a climax that makes you believe you are right on the water, but you know, without the chilling winds and whiplash.

I have definitely spent enough time on this game, so much so that I can perform half the tricks in my sleep. So, many hours riding along the shorelines of Sunset Bay and the wide stretches of Twilight City. Ah, good times, good times indeed. Though it has its share of flaws, as in a limited character selection and a poor multi-player element, the single experience all but makes up for it. Beautiful environments, addicting game modes, balanced difficulty settings, and smooth controls all sum up what Wave Race 64 has to offer. It is a shame that this genre isn’t as widespread as others, but I can safely say that this installment can pave the way for those to come.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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