Review: Hydro Thunder Hurricane (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Hydro Thunder Hurricane
Developer: Vector Unit
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Arcade Racing
Release Date: 7/28/2010

For those of you kids out there that think “arcade” is a genre, back in the old days, there were buildings that either had nothing but arcade cabinets – just like the one in our logo above! – or a majority of them. These were called “arcades”. Some of the games were even dedicated to simulating the art of driving a car, or shooting things! I know it seems like I’m about to tell you to get off my lawn, but it really does seem like a bygone era when a game like Hydro Thunder – which came along in 1999, right when arcades were starting to die down – was new and exciting. Today, about the only place you’d see the original Hydro Thunder is if a department store still had an arcade cabinet, or attached to amusement centres; one of the local hockey rinks around my area has one, I believe, though I could be getting it confused with some other racing game. After awhile, all of those Midway arcade racing games tend to blend together.

Of course, since the 2010s are the new 1990s, we have to bring back big “name” franchises, even if those “names” really weren’t that notable to begin with. So it is with Hydro Thunder Hurricane. I went into this asking if there was really a reason to bring back this franchise, now that Midway is dead, and if this was worth the $15. In the end, it’s up to what each gamer wants, but this is what you’d expect from an arcade game: lots of sexy sizzle, with precious little steak.

There are four game modes, with various events contained within each mode. There’s a standard race mode which is self-explanatory, as well as a Ring Master mode (drive through rings), Gauntlet mode (a race against the clock with exploding barrels) and Championships, which have multiple instances of all of the above in one series. As far as racing games go, this is very bog standard, and you’ve literally seen everything this game has to offer you within an hour of playing for the first time. After you medal in your first race, you’ll gain credits, which automatically unlock stages, different races on said stages, different boats which are broken down into Novice, Pro and Expert classifications, and other goodies like Avatar props and gamer pictures. While those are nice, racing the same modes and the same stages with the same boats gets old, fast. There’s not enough of anything to really justify long-term playtime, though I like how the Championships can be exited and picked up later.

None of that, however, is going to matter to old-school fans of the arcade game or the Dreamcast port. If all you care about is bringing back Hydro Thunder’s brand of twitchy racing, the remake brings that back accurately. The controls are the same for the most part, both in terms of how to play the game and how the boats control, though sea swells seem to go higher this time around, which can put your boat uncontrollably into the air if you’re not careful. The two big changes are the elimination of the arcade timer – a plus, as this is not technically an arcade game any longer – as well as the addition of drafting mechanics. Following another racer and staying inside their swells gives a drafting boost, which is a nice little addition, though it is less of a requirement to stay in the swells as it is to just stay behind someone; going back and forth to chop the sea up doesn’t help at all, so there’s no real physics at work. There is a boost meter that is gained by picking up nitrous oxide, which comes into play more often than it should as there is rarely ever a non-obscene level of boost in your reservoir. Whether you’re boosting or not, you’re usually going at ridiculous speeds, and though it doesn’t feel as fast as other games such as WipeOut, I was too busy fighting the waves and everything else about each stage to notice. If you like arcade racing without simulation aspects, you’ll enjoy playing Hydro Thunder.

Whether or not the scarcity of tracks, boats and other things is worth the purchase price is a consumer decision. This is a $15 title, which seems like a lot to me. Not a lot of effort was put into the game to make it worth that price. Graphically, it’s surprisingly weak. There’s a lot happening in each stage – in two early instances, there’s a Viking with a gigantic axe attacking, and a large sea serpent coming up and causing a whirlpool – but the same things happen in each stage, at each interval, so it gets tired after awhile. The stages themselves aren’t very attractive, featuring bland environments and uninspired design. There’s also some graphical tearing to be found when zooming in on objects, which tells me this didn’t get the full QA treatment. However, it’s a nice touch to have water splashing onto the screen whenever you land in the water after a big jump. The audio – for a game that relies on adrenaline rushes – is surprisingly poor, with irrelevant, almost inaudible music and an annoying announcer who both manages to be obvious and bland. He says the same things at the same times, depending on the situation, helpfully telling you when you’re drafting (as if the speed lines on my screen weren’t enough), musters up some weak surprise whenever something big happens, and mentions something “witty” whenever you get a special package, like “it’s shiny and it’s spinning, it must be important”. These lines repeat early and often, and are never entertaining.

In terms of multiplayer, just like the console ports, there’s an option for four player split-screen local multiplayer, which is a plus in an era where companies are taking out local multiplayer in favour of online play. It’s also possible to take up to four local players online to Xbox Live, which is a really positive addition that makes this a great party game. There’s two modes for multiplayer: standard race, and Rubber Ducky mode, which is a team based event where one driver plays as the Rubber Ducky (a custom boat), and the other teammates make sure their duck crosses the finish line first, under any circumstances. Unfortunately, I was unable to test out Rubber Ducky mode because I wasn’t able to get enough people together for a full game by press time; due to this, the mode is not reflected in our scoring of the game. However, this sounds like a fun thing to do with friends over the house, especially if someone can get a game of four on four using local multiplayer. There isn’t a wide range of modes, but there’s enough to do to keep fans interested, at least, and all of my matches were lag and problem free.

The Scores
Modes: Poor
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Pretty Poor
Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

It is what it is: Hydro Thunder Hurricane is an acceptable remake of the arcade port for fans of the original game. Anyone who loved the arcade or Dreamcast game will likely be counting down the minutes to purchase this, as they should.

However, I don’t think this game really works for people new to the series. There’s not a lot of value for a full-priced XBLA game, and the gameplay – while fun – is best taken in short bursts. Anyone who plays and enjoys the demo should take care that the rest of the game is just the demo with some arbitrary modes tacked on. To me, that’s not worth a $15 purchase. Wait until next year, when this year’s Summer of Arcade titles are all discounted.

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