Hydro Thunder Hurricane - Xbox Live Arcade

It’s the second week of Summer of Arcade and for this week we go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum from last week’s LIMBO with the arcade style boat racer, Hydro Thunder Hurricane. It’s the latest in the Hydro Thunder series, which I’ll admit that aside from a few casual plays in the arcade I am not all that familiar with. I enjoyed what I played and always love a solid arcade racing experience so I was looking forward to giving this title a try.

I was happy to discover that Hydro Thunder Hurricane is as pure an arcade experience as you can get. Once on an early track a sea monster pops his head out of the water to provide a course obstacle, you know they weren’t gunning for realism in this one.

The primary focus here is on boosting. You collect boost power-ups along the track, which you need not only to go faster, but also to perform a hop that lets you jump over obstacles and opponents, as well as get some extra air off ramps or discover new areas of the track. You’ll need to keep that boost meter up by constantly collecting the power-ups so that you can continuously boost throughout the length of the race, which is immensely satisfying when you pull it off flawlessly.

Right out of the gate I’ll say that the game looks great. There is a ton of variety in both the design of the various boats, as well as in each of the tracks. There are only around eight tracks in the game but each one of them feels completely unique with its own individual imagery. Most importantly though is that even when you start getting into the highest speeds, the frame rate keeps up with you the entire way. Not once did I experience any hiccups or slowdown, which is crucial in an experience like this.

My biggest concern before playing the game was the water physics. Many games have tried to have water racing, and many have failed, often creating a feeling that your boat is floating several feet above the water rather than actually driving through it. Hell my go-to example for fantastic water physics is usually still Wave Race 64, even after 14 years.

Thankfully Hydro Thunder Hurricane rises to the challenges and presents some of the best water physics I’ve seen in quite some time. You very much feel like you are actually in the water, with your boat bouncing and reacting to sometimes even the smallest waves. The bigger ones send you flying through the air and you can often use these to access new areas of the track. Thankfully the controls are tight enough that even when you start getting bounced around by some of the larger waves, you always feel like you are in complete control.

I touched on the look of the tracks earlier but I was also very impressed with the track design. Each track is loaded with shortcuts and alternate routes that I often didn’t discover until I had played a particular track multiple times. Plus the tracks tend to change as you race through them, with the later laps taking you through completely different areas than the previous ones. It keeps things interesting and provides incentive to go back and race through the same tracks multiple times. While Hydro Thunder Hurricane looks and feels fantastic, I found it came up very short in one area – game play variety.

In Single Player you have four different modes to choose from. The first is Race, which is a standard race between you and fifteen other opponents. I had the most fun with that mode as the game play lends itself very well to racing against others. Hopping over an opponent right before the finish line or coming off a large jump only to land in front of them and take top spot are great pulse pounding moments, and I found myself returning to this mode most often.

The second choice is Ring Master, where the goal is get the fastest overall time by driving through a series of rings. Successfully driving through the rings fills your boost meter, allowing you to maintain higher speeds. Each ring you miss adds more time to the clock. While it can be fun to race through a track as quickly as possible to beat your previous record time, this mode does not stay engaging for very long. It certainly doesn’t come close to reaching Superman 64 levels of frustration and monotony, but if you’re like me then after a few tracks you will have had your fill of ring driving. Unfortunately you’re going to have to do a whole lot of it if you want all the trophies in the game, as there are 24 to earn in this mode, as opposed to the usual 8-10 in the other modes.

The third mode is Gauntlet, which has the similar goal of racing through a track as fast as you can, only instead of driving through rings, you are trying to avoid explosive barrels that will slow you down. Although this mode focuses more on exploiting a track’s routes and shortcuts more than Ring Master, when you break it down, it’s still you racing alone, trying to get a fast time. This one does allow you more freedom, but the end goal is still the same.

The fourth mode is Championship, which strings together existing events and has you do them in a row. So you’ll be seeing all of those same events popping up here as well. So aside from the initial Race mode, you will be racing alone a whole hell of a lot.

Thankfully to counteract that, Hydro Thunder Hurricane has both local and online multiplayer. This is presumably where many gamers will be spending the majority of their time with this game. Here you can jump into a standard race with online opponents, and there’s also another mode called Rubber Ducky. The usual race explains itself so let’s talk Rubber Ducky.

In this mode, players are divided into two teams. On each team one player is controlling a large rubber duck, with the goal being to have yours cross the finish line before the opposing teams. Those who aren’t playing as the duck, can either help their team’s duck by boosting into it and propelling it forward, or they can attempt to knock the other team’s duck off course. It’s a unique way to go and it can be both fun and often a little nerve-wracking if you have a good neck-to-neck race going. I will say I much preferred playing as the duck as it’s simply not as involving to play as one of the normal racers. I should say too that while playing online, the experience still remained smooth and lag-free even when we had a full room of people playing.

It is a little too bad that these are currently the only modes available in online play but there’s always room for DLC and the races are fun enough to keep you coming back for a good while.

I still do recommend Hydro Thunder Hurricane since as a racer it’s a hell of a lot fun, and it looks and plays great, I just wish there was a little more variety to it. The majority of your time in the single player will be spent racing by yourself to get a fast time, and the online currently only has two options available, although at least they are both fun. In the end though if you’re fan of the franchise, or are just looking for a solid arcade racing game, this one is worth the $15 price point. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for some DLC in the near future.