This week's recommendation is for the racing fans. A truly retro franchise originally found in arcades, then later on the Dreamcast, N64 and Playstation, this newest Hydro Thunder sequel is a must-have, for established fans, or those wanting to enjoy racing on water.
For those not “in the know”, the premise is simple. High speed, adrenaline pumped racing, but on water. There have been other games that have taken this premise, but Hydro Thunder was the first, and as this “XBLA” release shows, still the best.
|A dinosaur sea monster and a whirlpool?|
When it rains, it pours...
The graphics are not fantastic by today's standard of games releases, but it would appear that they have tried to reconstruct the original style as best as possible, just with a little more 3D and “HD”, and I think this retro feel really works for it, especially for the fans.
The sound – voice acting, music, special effects, etc – is all really fun, with an amusing narrator making sarcastic comments and cheering the player on through the races, and of course over-the-top water and motor sounds are to be expected, and enjoyed. It is all part of the experience.
The maps are also quite enjoyably extravagant, with sea monsters, alien spaceships, whirlpools and transportation devices, to name but a few things that you shall find in the surroundings and on the tracks.
|Ring Master mode|
Gameplay is varied, with four different modes of play, and both Single Player and Multiplayer options. Race mode pits the player against AI head-to-head for first position, Ring Master challenges the players accuracy rather than speed as you must try to pass through all the rings on the track in order and in good time, Championship is a series of races back-to-back, and most difficult but enjoyable of all in my opinion is Gauntlet mode which fills the track with bombs for you to avoid as you speed to the finish alone against the clock.
There are only eight tracks available to unlock and play through in the initial game, but there is an Expansion Pack (priced at 400 Microsoft Points) with more, and the various difficulty settings, game modes, and online and offline multiplayer, so there is plenty of replayability to be had.
|Split-Screen Multiplayer for up to four players|
The biggest selling point for me, however, is something that puts this game well ahead of others on the market, and that is the fact that the online multiplayer actually allows for four players to play online together with other players around the world, via split-screen. So, if four of you want to play online together, only one need have a copy of the game. Or, if you are like me and want to test drive (every pun intended) the game before you purchase it, you can play live against other gamers around the world with a friend who owns it first.
Interestingly enough, the online multiplayer is still very much active, almost three years after its release, which is testament to its worth. At 1200 Microsoft Points (approximately £10), it is not the cheapest of Xbox Live Arcade purchases, but I honestly think it is worth it.
You can view the trailer above, and you can download the Trial, or purchase the game from the Xbox website or from the Games Marketplace on your Dashboard.