Dreamcast Game Review – Hydro Thunder (Just Add Water)

Ahh the typical racing game… how boring!!! But what Midway shows you, if you just add water, you can get something exciting. True… HydroThunder was not a big hit with me in the arcades, mainly because it was a dollar a pop. It’s nice to see that a pretty much identical version can be had for significantly less money. I’d say it’s 100 times less than the price of a deluxe coin-op.

Flashback to ’96… Waverace was released for the N64. Life was good. Finally there was a water-based racer that didn’t have lousy water graphics or flat sound effects. As one of my favorite N64 games, I thought it would be a long time before it would be beaten.

Back to now… I’d have to say that HydroThunder may be the new King of water-based racers. I say “may” because HydroThunder does have some flaws.

The load time is rough. It’s not quite the same as the old Commodore 64 days, but it’s a little too long. There’s load time before every track. It can get frustrating when you’ve played Lake Powell for the 127th time in a row.

There’s another issue. The difficulty is a little absurd. You have to finish in the top ranks before you can advance to the next tracks and to use the better boats. Should you manage to beat the harder levels, you had better remember to save. HydroThunder does NOT sport an auto-save.

One last complaint… the graphics suffer in two-player mode. It looks to me like the cool lighting effects were sacrificed, in order to maintain a high two-player frame rate. So basically, you’ll get lost in the dark if you drive through a cave during a two-player battle. It’s pretty frustrating to lose a race, simply because you could not see what was in front of you.

All in all though – HydroThunder is still a worthy game. The one player mode does represent a serious challenge. If you’re looking for a game that will keep you struggling for a while… this is it. I’d say it’s a good value for the money. There’s superb graphics (one-player mode), kickin’ sounds, smooth play control, and plenty of challenge. While not a flawless translation, it’s better than the more expensive arcade alternative.

Graphics – Minus the two-player issues, the graphics are rather impressive. With the wicked designs of the boats, to the picture-perfect levels, one could argue this game is a work of art.

Sound – The background music is kinda strange, but it’s not overpowering. The primary sounds are the effects – engines roaring, waves splashing, etc. The best is to hear the announcer’s comments or the police boats. “What part of pull over didn’t you understand?”

Control – It’s odd, but the better boats are tougher to handle. Oh well. With 13 boats to choose from, you’ll find one you like. Just about anyone can drive like a master

Innovation – Let’s get real. Today’s racers are nothing more than a slight improvement on Pole Position. Although, with the slight variation on an old theme, HydroThunder feels brand new.

Playability – Considering how I hate most racing games, Midway did pretty well with HydroThunder. Seldom can I get excited about running in a circle or beating a clock. Even still, HydroThunder can be quite entertaining.