Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade rolls on and the second title in the annual game series is upon us. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the sequel to the popular arcade title released in 1999. This powerboat racer seems to emit fun from its every pore and really evokes a feeling of nostalgia for anyone familiar with the arcades of old.
Arguably the most important aspect of a racing title is the gameplay. Thankfully Hurricane is both instantly accessible and eminently challenging in equal measure. It’s clear that the developers have taken note of the game’s arcade routes, because within thirty seconds of first powering up the game you can be in a race.
Tutorials take the form of a few screens telling you exactly what you need to know; right trigger accelerates, you can gather boost power that is used by pressing ‘A’ and ‘X’ causes your vehicle to jump.
However the simplicity of the controls belies the complexity of mastering this game. Using higher level vehicles in the form of powerboats that sacrifice handling for speed and acceleration, it becomes a real challenge to beat each track and gain the gold trophy. If that’s not enough to keep you busy, the inclusion of online leaderboards might; the time of your next closest rival is displayed in the top right of the screen so that you always have a new challenge to overcome long after you’ve bested the game.
Even when racing the lower level vehicles, the sense of speed is tangible and provides a really immersive experience. There are three difficulty settings, each marked by the quality of the powerboat rather than a menu setting. This helps the game feel more dynamic in that primary gameplay mechanics are drawn into the game itself, rather than placed within a menu.
To compliment Hurricane’s three difficulty levels, there are four racing modes to choose from. Race sees you compete in a traditional flat-out event against fifteen computer controlled opponents. Ring Master sees you competing against the clock to race through hoops all the way to the finish line, with a miss on any ring resulting in a time penalty and a loss of boost power. Gauntlet sees you race through a solo run through tracks littered with explosive barrels. Finally, Championship provides a mixture of the other events, with points awarded for each win.
Whilst the racing is perhaps traditional at times, the level design is anything but. Somewhat reminiscent of Wave Race on the N64, after each lap of there is a high chance that something will change. A thing to note is that realism was really thrown out of the window with Hurricane; one track in particular sees a giant Norse god reaching over the level and smashing ice cliffs with his axe to create additional obstacles. There are also power-ups dotted around the tracks that will augment things for you; invariably drawing up a ramp that leads to an extra power up or shortcut.
Graphically the game is competent without ever blowing you away. When boost is earned, the ships transform to reveal booster engines, providing a nice little aesthetic touch. Water effects are probably the most impressive, with water hitting and running down the screen as you race. There are a few instances of scenery glitches to be found, but these only really occur if you veer way off the track.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of the game is the soundtrack. The music is pretty indiscernible from any other sound in the game. In isolation, the in-game music is also pretty uninspiring. Engine noises are also fairly wonky; at times being a little grating.
Graphics: 3/5 Competent, but not impressive. The graphics do the job amicably and there are nice little touches like the splashes on the screen as you race.
Sound: 1/5 The music is generic and completely drowned out by the engine sounds. The engines are also hit or miss at times. Commentary during the race is humourous and is probably amongst the best audio in the game.
Story: 0/5 There is no story, this is a pure arcade racer.
Gameplay: 4/5 Each vehicle has distinctive handling and speed. The physics of the game also affects different shaped vehicles in different ways. Level design is outlandish and fun. A Viking Longboat chases you past a giant Norse god as he tries to batter you with his hammer, if that sounds like fun then this is for you.
Longevity: 3/5 There are a lot of events to complete, and once you’ve bested every track with a gold trophy there’s the leaderboards to contend with. There’s definitely enough here to keep you busy. Perhaps a few more tracks would have resulted in a higher score.
Overall: 3 Special boosts out of 5 – This game isn’t for everyone, but if jumping powerboats whilst a giant crocodile leaps out of the water next to you sounds like your thing, I’d urge you to download the trial and give it a go.
At 1200 MSP, perhaps Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a little on the expensive side; if it were priced at 800 MSP then it definitely would be a must buy.
- Tom Wallis