When Midway filed for bankruptcy in June of this year floundering under the weight of a stream of middling sales from mediocre games, in turn selling licenses and studios to pay off mounting debts, very few people were probably all too concerned for the Thunder brand. Where many wondered where the next Mortal Kombat would come from or whether there would ever be another NBA Jam, far fewer people had the same levels of nostalgia for – and therefore interest in – the arcade-centric Offroad, 4 Wheel, Arctic and Hydro entries in the Thunder series.
Enter then Vector Unit, the developers of Hydro Thunder Hurricane – a full fledged sequel to the speed boat racing original released on home consoles towards the very tail end of the 20th century – who seemingly felt that there was life left in this old (sea)horse yet. Coming to market as an Xbox exclusive, as the next release in this year’s Summer Of Arcade, following up the art-house indie gem Limbo with a more… traditional… approach to games design and this being their first release, the odds were always going to be stacked against the team at Vector Unit to create a memorable downloadable title.
Yet somehow, HTH has managed to come out of seemingly nowhere to be one of the most fun and compelling racers in recent memory, providing a fitting homage to the original Hydro Thunder, yet updating the admittedly simple formula far enough to seem relevant in a market place that is, rather fittingly, flooded with arguably more sophisticated arcade racers right now.
Incorporating standard races, gate challenges dubbed ‘Ring Master’ mode and a ‘Gauntlet’ mode (wherein the player is required to make it to the end of the track without hitting too many explosive barrels), plus local and online multiplayer, in terms of framing Hydro Thunder Hurricane is nothing to write home about, though these varied methods of play do enable some elegant recycling of the title’s eight tracks. However this simple structure (and the game’s exceptionally fast load times) gets you into the right games for the right mood quickly. Fancy utilising the full capabilities of your vehicle and learning the riskier routes? Get straight into the Ring Master mode. Want a frenetic race to the finish? A standard race is the order of the day. Want to be a little more thoughtful in your racing? Gauntlet mode. Need to take on all comers and prove yourself? Online. From a limited set of mechanics then, this arcade racer covers a lot of bases.
Whereas the original Hydro Thunder outing could, if we were being cynical, have been accused at the time of being a Wipeout clone, Hurricane has a lot more verticality and more routes through its colourful world than Sony‘s flagship future rave racer. The waves for instance are much more integral to the game this time round, much in the same way Wave Race 64 has players taking into account how they enter a corner in relation to the surf around them. That said, HTH isn’t nearly as tricky as Wave Race and average players will only start to become truly challenged late into the game, by which point they’ll probably have unlocked most of the really important content. And – OH MY GOSH – the-unlocks! Perfectly paced, the game rewards you after almost every race with a new boat, paint job, avatar item, challenge, achievement or track to race on, providing that much needed impetus to continue when you’re twenty races into a session.
Racing is fluid (see what I did there?) and has a lot more nuances to it than its fairly simple accelerate, brake, jump, boost and steer would bely, with knowing when and how to boost being key to improving track times. The feeling of speed, height and weight has been captured well here, making for an adrenaline fuelled ride each time you start up the on-board motor.
It’s a shame then that the audio never quite matches up to the action on screen, the original soundtrack being a little middle of the road and the overly excited announcer starting to grate on occasion. It’s fine in the arcade to hear a context sensitive audio clip on a specific part of a track, because your interaction with that title is likely to be much less often than a home release, but hearing the same FX each time you go past an area in an environment, just feels a little lazy on the part of the audio team, as does the rest of the aural presentation.
If you loved the original Hydro Thunder, Hurricane is a tremendous return to form for the franchise, and if you’re looking for a slightly more old school (read: straightforward) arcade racer, this comes highly recommended. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is excellent and though it doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a thoroughly accomplished title and a fine – albeit polemic – release to follow up Limbo in this second week of the XBL Summer of Arcade.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: Xbox Release Date: 28/07/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Hydro Thunder Hurricane for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on an Xbox 360 Pro. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.