Wave Race: Blue Storm

In terms of sheer number of hours I have probably spent more time playing Wave Race 64 than the vast majority of games in my thirty seven years. Of course a large part of that was due to the anemic N64 release schedule. But that also meant I truly learned to appreciate the game and all its depths. When Wave Race: Blue Storm was announced at Spaceworld 2000 I had to have it. It would be impossible for the game to have the impact of its predecessor but it didn’t need it. Despite overly twitchy controls Wave Race: Blue Storm is an excellent game in its own right and one of the shining stars of the GameCube launch lineup.

Major changes have been made to the core gameplay beginning with the number of racers. Eight characters compete simultaneously, double the number of the first game. It’s interesting to note that the new additions all come from 1080 Snowboarding. All characters are rated in five categories: speed, acceleration, handling, stunts, and strength. All characters are a mix of stats and have at least one area of weakness. The spectrum of performance is vast, with beginner friendly riders like Ayume and Ryota to expert characters like Serena and Dave Mariner.

While everyone has their own individual quirks in terms of handling the controls have been switched up a little. L & R allow you to lean and make sharper turns. This is possibly the most crucial mechanic needed to master the game as the difficulty is steep. Holding B will cause you to crouch and build up speed. These mechanics are absolutely essential on the higher difficulty levels; luckily they are simple to use. The overall handling is very loose; even a slight tap on the analog stick is very slippery. You can customize the handling once again but it never feels as tight as the first game. Although I was able to adjust I will admit I miss the perfection of Wave Race 64 in that regard.

The various modes of the first game all return with little changes. Stunt mode has a range of new tricks to perform and can also be played with up to four players. Of all the various modes Championship has seen the biggest changes. Championship is split into three difficulty modes, with each spanning five, six or seven days. Each bump in difficulty adds one more track to keep things lively but what I really like are your choices. For each day you have a choice of three tracks. Each takes place under certain weather conditions, allowing you to potentially avoid the more problematic races. It sounds minor but goes a long way toward making the game more accessible.

Regardless of the difficulty Wave Race: Blue Storm is not an easy game. The increased number of competitors means the point requirements to advance becomes steep quickly. It also means you have more opportunity to jockey for position. Certain tracks are an absolute nightmare depending on the weather; Ocean City Harbor during a rainstorm looks spectacular but the massive waves are a killer. The less precise handling forces you to master the new mechanics. You will probably need free roam mode to learn each track’s intricacies to lessen the chance of failure. I’m not a big fan of the heightened difficulty but it also doesn’t break the game either.

The weather dynamic is fine and definitely adds to the game’s atmosphere but can’t hide the fact that most of the content is lifted from Wave Race 64. Of the eight tracks only two are completely original. Aspen Lake is a redesigned Drake Lake while Southern, while prettier, is identical. Ocean City Harbor adds new elements and is more wide open but is still Twilight City. It wouldn’t be so bad if the new courses, La Razza Canal and Strongwater Keep weren’t so fantastic. An even split between new and old would have done wonders to eliminate the feeling of déjà vu.

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The move to the GameCube did wonders for the game’s presentation. Each individual rider actually resembles a human being rather than a chunk of blocks. Each sports many individual animations that help give them personality as well. Trackside detail has undergone a massive overhaul as well. The first game had very little in the way of landmarks outside each track. Here you’ll find entire towns, lighthouses and abundant sea life in each course. Aside from the character models the weather effects have probably seen the largest change. Each effect such as stormy weather and fog looks spectacular and drastically changes the tone of each track. The frame rate is locked at thirty and never, ever dips which is amazing considering the spectacle on display.

The water should be the most obvious area of improvement and in that regard things are mixed. The translucency and reflection effects are simply beautiful to watch. The reflections aren’t canned and distort along with the wakes kicked up by each racer. I miss the specular highlighting that made Wave Race 64’s water stand out but would still say this looks better. There are still some low resolution textures scattered about but reasonable sacrifices were made to keep the frame rate stable.

The music in Wave Race 64 was a point of contention for many. I freely admit the synth tunes were a bit cheesy but I loved them. That has given way to a normal rock soundtrack that simply isn’t as memorable in my opinion. With the added minidisc space the commentator has far more lines. In fact each character has their own announcer which is extremely cool.

In Closing

It was practically impossible for Wave Race: Blue Storm to live up to its legendary predecessor. The original basically created the water based racing genre as we know it. However Wave Race: Blue Storm is a more than worthy follow-up and still great today. I still bust it out every now and then for a quick race with the different weather effects because the game is so good. For the cheap price it goes for it is more than worth it.

Parasite Eve Excellent