This may sound strange, but some of my fondest childhood memories come from the little arcade closet at my local movie theater. No matter how bad the dates went, or how cheated I felt by a movie, I could always rely on the flashing lights and the *Plunk!* of a quarter to make me feel at home.
One of the staples of the movie theater arcade, at least in my town, was the over-the-top aquatic racer Hydro Thunder. Well, some years and several cities later, I’m back to playing Hydro Thunder, except this time it’s rocking the subtitle Hurricane and it’s in my living room on my Xbox 360.
For those of you who never had the chance to play the Hydro Thunder arcade game when you were a kid, the basic premise is simple. You race boats across ridiculous tracks, collecting boost power ups. That’s basically it. Sure, each map has tons of hidden pathways and little tricks that you’ll need to find in order to nab that 1st place prize, but at it’s core it’s a simple racing title.
When I say ridiculous tracks, I mean ridiculous. For example, the track Monster Island has you dodging belly-flopping alligators, launching off ancient ruins, and bashing the boost button to flee from a giant serpent in a whirl pool. If that’s not crazy enough for you, in the track Storming Asgard you have to dodge a pissed Thor making some nasty wake with his mighty hammer Mjöllnir.
Ignoring the ridiculousness of the tracks, I have to say, they are brilliantly designed. Each track is paced perfectly. What I mean by this is that there will be an intense few seconds of sharp turns and jumps just to get your pulse pounding, then, immediately after that there will be a huge waterfall allowing you a few seconds to catch your breath. It may not sound like much, but when you are holding the controller in sweat glazed hands, you’ll appreciate the little break.
Aside from the basic racing, there are three different game modes. There’s Ring Master, which is essentially a time trial mode where you must stay within a pre-defined path of rings. Each ring you go though adds more boost to your meter. Be careful though, as each ring you miss will add more time to your final score. The cool thing about Ring Master is that it will actually show you some of the hidden paths in each level. If it weren’t for Ring Master, I’d still be getting 5th or 6th place on some of the tougher maps.
Then there’s Gauntlet, which is another time trial mode with the major difference being that there are explosive barrels all along the track. If you hit a barrel, not only will you boat explode, but you’ll have to respawn a little further back in the track.
Lastly there is Championship, which is just a collection of the other events. For example, in one game of Championship, you can play Ring Master on one track, Gauntlet on another, and finally end with just a normal race. The game will keep track of your placements and assign point vales accordingly.
Speaking of point values, I should probably mention that they are what control your unlocks. In order to gain access to new tracks, boats, and game modes, you have to meet a prerequisite number of points. For example, unlocking Gauntlet mode for the track Area 51 required 32,000 points. In order to earn points, you must either place in the top three of a race or beat the time requirement in Ring Master or Gauntlet.
As you race, you’ll come across little bottles of boost, which as the name implies allow you to press a button to unleash some rapid acceleration. It is important to note that you have to activate the boost, otherwise it will just sit in the boost meter on the side of the screen. It is also important to mention that, if you have boost in your boost meter, you are able to press a button and make your boat jump. This allows for some fun exploration of crazy secret passages.
What I found myself playing most in Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the local multiplayer. While single-player runs at a consistent smooth frame rate, the split screen multiplayer doesn’t. By no means is it unplayable, but there is a noticeable drop in frame rate. The other issue with local multiplayer is that it is almost impossible to read the mini-map. This makes races more about memory than reflexes. While these points may sound like negatives on paper, in all reality it makes multiplayer more fun. The game stops being about who is faster or better and turns into, “How can I screw over the other player most?” Nothing beats ramming your opponent into a pillar to steal the win out from underneath them.
All in all, Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a surprisingly addictive arcadey racing title. If you are someone who‘s into racing games or fast-paced arcade action, you should definitely check it out. There is enough content and entertainment in here to easily warrant the $15 price tag.
While the single-player sees a smooth frame rate, split screen is another story.
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Hydro Thunder Hurricane sticks to the simple, yet addictive formula set in place by its arcade old brother.
Staying true to its arcade roots, Hydro Thunder Hurricane comes with roaring engines splashing wake and an annoying announcer.
With 50 trophies to nab, Hydro Thunder Hurricane will keep you splashing for a while during these hot summer months.
There are few XBLA titles that warrant a $15 price tag. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is one of them.