Platforms: XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Vector Unit
Limbo kicked off the Summer of Arcade with highbrow, pretentious puzzling that caused the games are always art crowd to collapse into spasmodic convulsions of unadulterated ecstasy. This week, however, things couldn't be more different. A true sequel to its classic arcade predecessor, Hydro Thunder Hurricane delivers huge, dumb, hi-octane thrills that will have players whooping, hollering and fist-pumping after each ludicrous jump and close-run victory. If they can prise their white knuckles off of the controller, that is.
Arcade racers have been dying a death on Next-Gen consoles, with developers focusing on either realism or crazy gimmicks to shift their wares. In stark contrast, Hydro Thunder Hurricane proudly and unashamedly looks to its original arcade debut for inspiration. You'll undertake insanely fast races on a selection of dangerous, ridiculous courses- and use your winnings to acquire bigger boats and even more outrageous tracks. Sometimes, being able to jump a powerful speedboat over a 200 metre waterfall is all I want from a game!
If you've ever played an arcade racer before (notably Burnout or Wave Race) then you'll know the drill. Racing is a drift and draft-heavy affair that revolves around nabbing boost power-ups and seeking out shortcuts. What sets Hydro Thunder Hurricane apart from the pack is the level design, which is both epic in scope and surprisingly intricate. Each one of the eight courses is packed with enormous jumps, secret passages, destroyable scenery and cinematic hazards that have to be seen to be believed. The cheesy 'Monster Island' stage contains enormous sea creatures, multiple paths and truly cheeky shortcuts to be exploited... and a Nordic level sets the scene for chasing down viking longboats, and facing off against Odin himself. Each stage is exhilarating, shamelessly OTT and (most importantly) consistently fun.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane brings four game types to the table- but doesn't offer anywhere near as much variation as you might expect. Whilst the 16-player races are by far the most satisfying and meaty part of the package, the Ring Master and Gauntlet modes make you play through the exact same levels with either ring checkpoints or swathes of floating mines to keep you on the straight and narrow. The ten championships are simply a collection of two or more other events- and many gamers will soon crave a little more variety.
Winning races and events will net you credits: a cumulative points total that unlocks races, new boats and events at preset thresholds. Credits can be earned both from singleplayer, online multiplayer and even local matches, making for a thoroughly addictive experience.
Multiplayer is an absolute blast. There are only two modes to choose from (including a standard head-to-head race and a hilarious rubber duck-related game type), but the Xbox Live netcode is rock solid and the experience provides consistent balls-out fun. Arcade racers are best played against human opponents, and it's always satisfying to leap over an competitor at the last corner or burst through the pack after finding a sneaky shortcut. Most gratifyingly, local splitscreen allows up to four players to throw down on each other or even take the racing online (signing them in as guests or using their accounts on a single telly). The chaotic levels can be a extremely tricky to navigate with the smaller screens, but it's a welcome nod to the games night scene. In my humble (and entirely correct) opinion, racing games without decent local multiplayer support are absolutely pointless- and I'm delighted that Hydro Thunder Hurricane didn't simply follow the herd and limit the fun to Xbox Live and system link.
There's only one genuine fly in the ointment... but it's a classic old chestnut that plagues a large number of 1200 Point XBLA titles. Put simply, there isn't enough content to warrant the price tag. The aforementioned samey game types and meagre selection of levels don't provide enough bang for your buck to warrant a wholehearted recommendation. Grinding for credits, nabbing a few hidden unlockables and playing online pads out the package, but most gamers will only need a handful of hours to see everything that Hydro Thunder has to offer.
- Intricate, epic levels are fun on a bun
- Addictive unlocking mechanics
- Raucous Xbox Live and local multiplayer
- Over-similar gametypes don't provide enough variety
- Eight levels start to stagnate after a couple of hours
- Ultimately poor value for money
The Short Version: Hydro Thunder's back... and it kicks ass. Epic cinematic courses and breakneck racing makes for a truly exhilarating experience, but the small amount of repetitive content ultimately curtails what could have been a must-have title. Arcade racing fans should definitely consider investing, though I heartily recommend testing the water in the demo before dropping the points.