Wave Race was one of my favourite games on the N64, which was a surprise as I don’t tend to get on with racing games. There was something about the game that kept drawing me back and wanting to do better each time. So when I saw Riptide coming out for the Switch and for only £9.99, I was seriously interested and wondered if it could scratch that watery itch. However, being honest, the combination of the low price point and the relatively small install size (151mb) dampened my expectations, as did my understanding that this had come from a mobile game. I honestly expected it to be “not all that”.
I started the game up in handheld mode and was taken straight into a very basic tutorial which simply said to use ZR to accelerate and beat the other guy. This ended confusingly and was followed by second tutorial showing me how to do a couple of stunts before throwing me into the game. I have to admit at this point I was not exactly riveted and after a couple of quick races I quit for the day.
The next day, I popped the Switch back in its dock and grudgingly fired it back up and explored the menu options. The modes available are Career (single player story), Quick Race (pick a track and go), Online and local split screen multiplayer for 2 to 4 players. There’s also a Stats option which shows how many stars you’ve accomplished out of the 354 available. It also shows how many things there are to unlock; jet-skis, drivers, decals and so on. It was at this point the game started to look more promising.
Heading into settings you’ll find difficulty options (easy, standard and hard), controls (I discovered there’s a brake!), sound settings and the ability to retake the tutorial. Second time around, the tutorial made a little more sense and reading online, I finally figured out the purpose of stunts (the game does not explain things very well at all) and realised that doing a stunt gains you experience (needed to level up and get more skills) and crucially, it allows you access to a short speed boost.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag, but it exceeded my expectations. Although it felt empty at times travelling through narrow tunnels in a bleak post industrial city scape, in other tracks it was full of details. There were massive space ships taking off, a battle unfolding around you, a fun fair with fire works bursting overhead and crashes of lightning. I noticed however significant scenery pop up with trees suddenly appearing as the game painted them in. In play I doubt you’ll notice this as the action was pretty frantic. Sadly, although rare, I saw some chugging in the graphics as the Switch struggled to keep up with me at times. I also noticed that unfortunately it was possible to clip through the track edge when you crash. There’s also a weird effect on the engine that I think was supposed to look like electricity but instead looked like white cloth fluttering in the exhaust pipes. There’s a rain spray effect as well on the screen, but its not the most convincing. Crucially however the water itself looks the part… though not as great as my pink tinted sunglasses recall the waters of Wave Race.
Audibly this game split my family. I loved the music as did my wife, but my eldest wasn’t so convinced. There could, I admit, have been more a lot more variety in the music though as I was never sure if I was hearing the same tune all the time. A desire for more variety was something I felt throughout this game. The environmental effects such as thunder, wind and electrical pylons were done well and really added to the game. The jet ski engine sounded more like a motorbike than a jet ski to me, being far too whiny sounding. There’s no voice acting unsurprisingly, but it would have been nice.
Game play wise, my biggest initial issue with the game was the lack of sufficient guidance. It didn’t explain the actual reason for the stunts for instance. Stunts – which you trigger by moving the thumb sticks whenever you’re flying through the air – give you a speed boost which you can then unlock with “A”. The more intricate the stunt the longer the boost but also the greater chance of wiping out. One of the negatives of the games is that if you’re really far behind the pack you really struggle to catch them up unless you manage a lucky boost or your current bike is that much faster. Sometimes you can get lucky and catch a boost in the wake of a passing police jet, though as the races are illegal, encountering the police is not usually a good thing.
There are sadly only 8 tracks in the games, with the majority being of a similar grey industrial theme. All the tracks were enjoyable though, and contained secrets, but I can see them quickly getting repetitive, especially the shorter ones which you have to do more laps on. I personally think this element of the game will really hurt the replay value the most. How the game gets around this problem is by a systems of upgrades. Each time you take part in a race you get money and experience depending on where you finish and the stunts you did, with first place obviously giving the most.
The experience can be spent on new tricks (though how you’re supposed to be able to remember them all is beyond me) or more useful abilities such as a longer boost. Cash is spent on upgrading your bike. Your jet ski has 4 characteristics that can be upgraded incrementally; acceleration, top speed, handling and boost. Increasing any one of these makes a noticeable difference which is good to see and they can make a previously impossible race achievable.
The races are held in a series of tournaments and culminating in a boss battle. To get to the boss and the next tournament you have to get at least third place in each of the preliminary challenges which involve head to head races, elimination (slowest person is out when the timer reaches zero) and slalom. Beating a boss gets you a new playable character and a new jet ski. This is where the grind comes in as, to beat the next tournament, you must “level up” your new ride with your old one effectively becoming obsolete.
Online multiplayer was not available at the time of this review, but it looked simple to start your own game or join someone else’s. Cross play is also promised to PC. Local play was fun and easy to get into and there’s a choice of 4, 6 or 8 race tournaments. That however is just about it. You can’t choose specific tracks and you can’t choose to play without Coms. It’s a shame this and online play are so vanilla. They get the job done but don’t exactly encourage replay. Those I played with enjoyed it, but not for long. Worth noting is that you can’t play with just one controller so getting enough sets of Joy Cons together to allow four player will prove expensive.
In conclusion, for the money you’re getting a real bargain, but replay value is questionable. It allowed me to scratch that Wave Rave itch, but personally I think going round the same few tracks to upgrade your latest new Jet ski will get tiresome quickly – unless you like grinding. I really enjoyed the time I spent with the game, but I’m not sure it will be something that draws me back too many times. Who knows though the fact that even coming dead last earns you something towards upgrading will maybe be enough to see me dip in for a blast and the next unlock. Maybe it will be my next Wave Race. Maybe…
This review was written by guest contributor, Eurogamer user GuybrushThreepwood (and family). A review code was provided by Vector Unit.