Sunday, August 8, 2010

XBLA review: Hydro Thunder Hurricane

For those who played Hydro Thunder as either an arcade racer or console game on the Dreamcast and N64, a second entry has been released exclusively for the Xbox Live Arcade. New developer Vector has taken over for Midway and added a bit of their own spin on things while maintaining the overall feel of the original title. Hydro Thunder Hurricane will run players 1200 Microsoft Points to download the full game.

The mechanics of Hurricane are largely the same as those of its predecessor. The default control scheme places the throttle at the right trigger and the boost at the 'A' button, though the controls can be changed to various configurations via the options menu. There are three boats for each class of difficulty, and with three classes of difficulty (novice, pro, and expert) players are granted use of nine total boats, each with its own positive and negative attributes. Certain boats are aimed at players who wish for a more balanced ride, while others put greater emphasis on speed or handling while sacrificing other aspects. The slide effect that the water has on the boats may take a little time for players to get used to and the ocassional big wave can toss boats quite a distance, but these become very minor annoyances once players get the hang of the game.

There are a total of eight tracks to choose from, each with obvious inspirations from the original game. Each track looks phenomenal with a perfect balance of stylized elements and realism - the lighting effects in particular outshine those in many full disc games (no pun intended). Scattered along the track are boost canisters which - as their name implies - grant players a limited amount of boost. The more of these players collect, the longer their boost will last. Players can also use the boost to jump to higher areas of the courses in order to find shortcuts or snag some of the hidden packages hidden on each course. Also found on most courses are switches which, when activated, open secret passageways or ramps to areas otherwise unreachable by a boost jump alone.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane has an incredible amount of replay value. Aside from the standard races, players can take part in gauntlet runs and ring challenges on each individual course. The gauntlet runs are largely the same as the standard race, but test players for individual time instead of placement as they navigate the course, avoiding explosive barrels along the way. The ring challenges also test players on time as they navigate their boat through rings that become smaller with each increased level of difficulty. Missing a ring will add an extra one to three seconds to the player's overall time ranking. Championship challenges stack a number of races, gauntlet runs, and ring challenges in a row and tally up the player's overall ranking (and respective point reward) at the conclusion of the combined races/challenges. Online play is included and players can go head to head with other racers to compete for the top three spots and a subsequent reward in points added to their overall score. Local/splitscreen matches pit four racers against CPU racers in a fairly straightforward multiplayer take on the traditional race mode.

As mentioned earlier, players are awarded points for winning gold, silver, and bronze trophies in the game's various events. Racking up a certain amount of points will unlock different races, challenges, though not in the most straightforward manner. In this way, the game attempts to force players to mix things up a bit by unlocking gauntlet and ring challenges in between each new track. Players can either play through these to earn more points or stick with the traditional races, using the different boats to earn more in rewards. Online play will also merit gamers a nearly limitless amount of point rewards, presuming players can finish in first, second, or third place.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane doesn't change much from the formula laid down years ago by the original Hydro Thunder, but that works almost entirely to the game's advantage. The gameplay is smooth and solid but still poses a decent challenge to players. A variety of play styles were kept in mind with the varying strengths and weaknesses of each boat. Players who wish to go the extra mile and complete each challenge with gold trophies in each event and find all hidden packages to unlock new paint jobs for each boat will find themselves with a tall (though not impossible) order to fill, while more casual gamers will find this title easy enough to jump into and enjoy. I was initially concerned that the price tag might be too steep for the game, but ultimately 1200 Microsoft Points is perfect for Hydro Thunder Hurricane.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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