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by Nintendo

waverace_gcn_ss25-01.jpg (9319 bytes)For the record, I was a huge fan of the original Wave Race. It was one of a group of first-generation N64 titles that nothing else in the system’s five-year run could surpass. In that case, it is probably a good thing that Nintendo decided to wait to release a sequel until they had the hardware to do it justice. The Gamecube fills that requirement nicely.

waverace_gcn_ss24-01.jpg (9448 bytes)The object of the game remains mostly the same this time around: race against the opposition while navigating between buoys, performing tricks, and battling against the waves, wakes, and weather. Missing five buoys or straying too far off course will end your race early. The landscape taxes your driving skills, forcing you to maneuver around piers, rocks, debris, between barges, and more. Shortcuts are everywhere, often forcing you to break through a wall, a hut, or submarine under a boardwalk. There are plenty of ramps to jump and tricks to perform. This time, however, the tricks are more than cosmetic. Performing tricks or passing a sufficient number of buoys fills your turbo meter which, once full, can be used for a temporary boost of speed that can make all the difference in a race.

waverace_gcn_ss20-01.jpg (10173 bytes)There are six modes of game play to choose from. Championship Mode requires you to race against seven opponents, through three circuits. With each progressive circuit new tracks are added, repeated tracks are modified, and the computer opponents become more competitive. It also allows you to unlock racing options for the rest of the game. All eight characters are playable from the start, so most of the extra options consist of tracks and weather. To unlock a track, or weather conditions for a particular track, you need only have played it in Championship Mode. Luckily, the game lays out the weather effects for each race of the circuit as you play, then lets you choose which course to race in those conditions, so you can get the effects you want for each course without too much hassle. There are eight total tracks, and five different types of weather—Clear, Clear/Partly Cloudy, Cloudy/Partly Rainy, Rainy, and Stormy. This may not seem like much at first, but each new circuit changes the courses dramatically (other than the setting, they are nearly unrecognizable by the time you reach the expert circuit) and the weather brings rain, snow, fog, and waves ranging one foot to nine feet. By the time you are finished there are dozens of different racing experiences to be had in each mode of the game. Unlocking all of the options you want will take a lot of replay in each circuit, and the game gets tough fast. The obstacle courses and computer opponents in the expert circuit are incredibly unforgiving. You can expect to be consumed by this game for a while. Other modes include a Tutorial, Free Roam, Time Attack, Stunt Mode, and a four-player, split-screen Multi-player.

waverace_gcn_ss23-01.jpg (10574 bytes)The control set-up seems simple at first. The directional stick turns your jet ski right and left and moves your character’s center of gravity forward and back (important when turning and negotiating waves). You accelerate with the A button, crouch with the B or Y button, use your turbo boost with X or Z. You lean right and left with the shoulder buttons. The C stick controls your camera. Tricks are performed using the directional stick in conjunction with accelerating, letting off the gas, and crouching. Some tricks are quick and easy, some take time to learn. All of this looks easy on paper, but the nuances and physics of the game give the control a bit of a learning curve. Negotiating multiple waves of different sizes takes skill, as does skiing over ice, ramps and consecutive series of ramps. The wakes of the other jet skis affects your control. There are waterfalls that change the current, and large, falling debris that create huge, unexpected waves. And during the course of a race you may encounter all of these, at the same time, all while the weather is changing around you.

waverace_gcn_ss22-01.jpg (10848 bytes)The graphics are rendered beautifully, although in a totally unrealistic manner. This is more of a stylistic choice than a programming limitation, however. The tour de force of the game is the water. Not just the wave modeling, which is terrific, but also the water as a whole. There are layers of textures and reflections. There is the water itself, the reflection of the background cast over it, your character and his or her reflection on top of that, then the landscape underneath the water, and any sea life swimming in between. All reflections shimmer and deform accordingly. The opacity of the water changes with the weather. The effect is almost hypnotic. It is not perfect, however, not by a long shot. The biggest problem comes with the layers below the surface of the water—the sea floor, sea life, and the parts of your character’s body that are occasionally in the water. While everything is convincing on top of the water, nothing shimmers, shortens, or deforms underneath the surface. At times, this makes the water appear too clear to be convincing. The courses are gorgeous. There are lots of wonderful details like smooth character models, fish jumping, ducks taking flight, sea turtles swimming, dolphins racing beside you, and the weather—holy cow, the weather. The raindrops hit the camera lens, fog creeps in and sets a cold, spooky tone, lightning erupts in the sky, silhouetting the landscape and reflecting on the water. And the weather is constantly changing. A race may start out partly cloudy, maybe with a drizzle, and slowly brew into a monster storm. Wow. But there are so few lighting and shadow effects, or deep textures aside from the water, that the overall look becomes very cartoony. The surface of the water is perfect, and the cartoony look works for the game, but a little more attention paid to the special effects under and around the water would make the visuals a lot more solid as a whole.

waverace_gcn_ss21-01.jpg (10981 bytes)The sound works well, but doesn’t rise to greatness. The sound effects are dead on—the engine has that high jet ski pitch that changes over each wave and jump, the crashes are sharp and nasty, the thunder booms, etc. The voice acting is good, but the commentary from the coaches can get irritating. Each character has his or her own coach, and while they are quick and almost too emphatic when you are doing well, they are also very condescending when you make a mistake. Ayumi Stewart’s coach, Robin, is by far the worst. I wanted to strangle her. Luckily, you can turn the voices off in the options menu. The music isn’t bad, has its high points, and ranges from techno to a six-string blues kind of sound.

Wave Race: Blue Storm is both a wonderful technical achievement and a joy to play. It is a solid jet ski racer that offers a much different experience than that of your traditional auto racer. It is refreshing to find yourself gliding over the glass-like surface of a calm lake and fighting nine-foot waves in a thunder storm, instead of grinding gears on the pavement yet again. There are details beyond the surface of the water that should have been pushed farther, and the courses and opposition become downright exhausting by the last circuit. But I have no problem saying that Wave Race: Blue Storm is a must-play launch title for the Gamecube.

Jeremy Kauffman   (11/27/2001)


Ups: Beautiful graphics; dynamic wave and weather action; lots of options and variety; trick system better incorporated.

Downs: Water is maybe too clear and perfect; a little tricky to get the hang of; annoying voices and coaches.

Platform: Gamecube