• Wave Race: Blue Storm review - Nintendo Gamecube

    The thought of the seminal classic Wave Race being revamped and updated for the Gamecube is an enticing one. For many, Wave Race on the Nintendo 64 was one of the console's most glittering moments, combining sublime handling with expertly realised water physics and rendering which even to this day have not been beaten. The Gamecube update comes in the form of Wave Race Blue Storm, and whilst it once again raises the benchmark for its supreme water design, the same cannot be said for other aspects of the game which go some way to belittling what could, and should have been the Gamecube's premiere launch title.

    For veterans and lovers of the original, unpacking the casing and inserting the tiny minidisk into the Gamecube for the first time is in itself a memorable experience. And anticipation is rewarded instantly once the game boots up as the in-game presentation is excellent. Set against an aquatic background the option menu is simplicity itself in the best Nintendo tradition, and its quality and functionality give the game a very professional looking front-end. A very similar choice of options to Blue Storm's predecessor are selectable from the start and consist of Championship, Time Attack, Score Attack, Versus, Free Run and Training modes. A multiplayer mode is also included allowing for 4 players to race at once on any of the circuits.
    Championship forms the main core of the game and enters you into a progressively difficult structured race against seven other opposition riders, initially across five different courses. Once you have completed the first championship mode, a more difficult six course race opens up and the extra stage becomes playable elsewhere in the game. Beat this, and the reward is a gruelling seven course race on reversed tracks where the games already high difficulty level becomes even more punishing and intense. Amateurs need not apply, as it's no understatement to say that the expert mode, as its name suggests, a worthy challenge to all comers.

    The game uses a points based scoring system and you need to ensure you get at least the minimum points required in order to the next race. A nice added bonus is the ability to be able to select which course you would like to race on within the given weather conditions, which gives the game significant added depth as a strategy element becomes involved as you plan your way through the championship.

    You have the choice of eight selectable racers from the start, each with their own distinctive style of racing and charisma. Both male and female participants are there for the choosing, and each has adjustable attributes such as top speed, acceleration, handling ability, stunt performance and power. The handling of each rider is unique, and at first the controls will seem sluggish and awkward until further play begins to reward the persevering gamer, as control issues are gradually overcome and favourite riders are formed. The main analogue stick is used to control the rider's movement, whilst the central A button is used to accelerate. The shoulder buttons enable the rider to perform an edging movement that when combined with extreme analogue movements can be used to turn the rider sharply, which is a necessity to overcome the latter stages. Other buttons are used to provide a turbo boost which is a new feature of Blue Storm that you are awarded after negotiating five buoys successfully, and adjust camera positions, and at all times the Gamecube joypad proves once again to be a superlative method of control for this type of game.

    The original Wave Race was never short when it came to handling and Blue Storm continues in that vain. Whilst initial play will likely frustrate as the riders seem to sluggishly respond to your input, once the learning curve kicks in and you begin to get the hang of the control system its not long before you are riding with the best of them. Each rider can be tailored to suit your own preference in terms of allocating points with the emphasis on speed or stability for example, but the uniqueness of each character is not lost in the process meaning its very much a question of your own style of racing as to which rider you favour. The emphasis on tricks has increased with a dozen or so new ones to master, whilst pulling off tricks can actually lead to a speed increase as a reward therefore increasing their importance during regular races.

    Wave Race set the benchmark so far as water rendering and physics were concerned, and this proves once again to be the real star of the show as the water effects are of equal high quality, albeit with considerably more visual panache. From still lakes to fierce thunderstorms, the representation and behaviour of the water is a perfect throughout. It gives the game a randomness that makes it so appealing; no two races are ever the same as the conditions dictate the flow to a great extent. Riding the crest of a wave is an exhilarating experience, whilst the more experienced players will enjoy using the waves to their advantage by making maximum use of the conditions. Many of the courses from the original return, albeit in remixed form, and whilst it would have been nice to have seen a whole new set of environments fortunately there is enough variation from the original to make this a new experience.

    Graphically, Wave Race Blue Storm is a mixed bag. Some may not warm to the cartoony look of the riders or the low polygon count of the participants in particular, or the poor texturing in places of many of the environments. It may not be the graphical masterpiece that many were hoping for, however it is still an accomplished looking title with the best water effects you are likely to see on a home console for a good while to come. Attention to detail is good, the lake level for example allows you too see right to the bottom of the sea bed where you can see fish swimming about as you race, other notable examples being the killer whale on the Arctic course and the dolphins on Southern Island, whilst the effect of the water hitting the screen as you hit waves full on is also excellent. Sound is used to most of its potential also, with numerous spot effects and good engine rendition, the constant chatter of the contestants and commentator may not please everyone though.

    Wave Race Blue Storm is an excellent title, but as with most other games there are some deficiencies. The difficulty curve will prove to be an obstacle for many people, whilst early races can be won without too much trouble intermediate races can prove to be quite daunting at first, with frustration setting in as you surrender a last lap 1st position to 8th after one just mistake. Fortunately, the game has an addictive quality that makes you come back after such unfortunate moments, and for this it should be commended. As mentioned earlier, Blue Storm is not the graphical Tour De Force one might have hoped for, although remembrance of just how good the original was in this respect for its time does not help Blue Storms cause a great deal. The 30fps frame rate surprised many people who were expecting 60fps, but thanks to the smoothness of the visuals and the rock solid frame rate with no slowdown whatsoever it's barely noticeable and is a worthwhile sacrifice of frame rate.

    Whilst not perfect, Wave Race Blue Storm marks an excellent debut for the series on the Gamecube. For some it may seem like little more than a graphical update of its predecessor but that would be rather unfair as Blue Storm has not only a lot to offer but also features that make it a original game in its own right and as such becomes highly recommended.

    Review by Marcus Jullion