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Wave Race 64

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Reviewed by Scott McCall As a game filled with an odd and mysterious history, Wave Race 64 has blast on to the 64-bit scene. Although this is not a very well known fact, Wave Race originally appeared on the Game Boy in 1992. That game also featured most of the same gameplay mechanics as its 64-bit cousin -- minus the spectacular wave effects, of course. The game had a top-down overhead view with four racers on jet skis racing around the track. It also featured a championship mode and a stunt mode. The eccentricities didn't stop there. The 64-bit sequel originally debuted on video tape at the annual 1995 Shoshinkai show held every November in Japan. Oddly enough, the version shown at the show featured boats, not jet skis! The boat had retractable "wings" in addition to the incredibly realistic water movement and huge jumps in the game. Although the game looked extremely hot, almost like F-Zero on water, Nintendo had a surprise for everyone at the E3 show in May 1996. The game no longer featured boats, but the game now had jet skis in it like the old Game Boy version! This caused quite a stir among the gaming population. Most of the gamers thought the game looked like crap with the jet skis. In just four short months there has been a miraculous turn around. Welcome to the new Wave Race 64. With all that background information out of the way, we can now say that Wave Race 64 is a 3-D racing game featuring jet skis. The action takes place with a behind the jet ski view. The game features random wave effects, which are calculated in real-time. Surprisingly, the waves actually affect the gameplay rather than just serving as eye-candy. This makes for an extremely interesting gameplay experience. From the moment you turn on the game, you will be wowed by the game's incredible water effects. Even with an abundance of jet ski games either out now or on the horizon, none of those other games can touch the visual prowess of Wave Race 64. Besides being mesmerized by the game's incredible graphics, you also be amazed at the amount of speech in the game, and you'll probably also have a little trouble getting used to the analog control at first. The title screen presents the gamer with many different modes of play. The Championship Mode is a race for one-player, which pits them against three other computer players (four in total) who are all fairly intelligent. The Time Attack mode puts the player on the track without any other drivers to get the best time possible. The Score Attack mode dares the player to get the best score possible by trying to make it through all the rings and by doing as many flips, jumps and hot dog moves as possible. There is also a two-player VS Mode so you and your buddy can race against each other, one-on-one, on any track you wish. Unlike most other Nintendo-made games, Wave Race 64 actually presents a multitude of options to the player. Fortunately, Wave Race 64 not only supports the Controller Pak but also has a built-in EEPROM chip like Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Here's a brief tour of some of the options: Name Change (you can give the jet skiers new names), View Records (check out your best times and best stunt scores), Race Settings (change the Type of Wave between Normal, Calm, Strong & Random; change the Number of Missed Buoys; and change Number of Laps), Sound (choose between Stereo, Mono and Headphones; turn the Music on or off; and listen to the different music tracks), Reset Records (reset time and/or stunt records on a particular track), and Memory Management (deals with the Controller Pak). The options don't stop there. You also have your choice of four different riders. Each one has different attributes that can also be adjusted and saved to your Controller Pak. You can then take your Controller Pak over to your friend's house and use your own personal jet ski on their game. Interestingly enough, Wave Race 64 has one of the most simplistic control schemes in recent memory. Control consists of gas and movement -- that's it. You can hold down either the A or Z button to accelerate and let off the button to slow down. You then use your analog Control Stick to maneuver on the course. The analog Control Stick is also used to perform the stunts in the game. Unlike, say, in Uniracers, stunts serve no real purpose in the actual Championship or Versus modes other than to show off. As a matter of fact, it can actually harm you if you land a stunt wrong. For those willing to do a little hot dogging, you can do turns, flips, twists, and combinations of those to pull off some sweet moves. Camera control is fairly limited in Wave Race 64 -- and rightfully so. Unlike the more mobile cameras in Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64, you can only basically zoom in and out on your rider. Most gamers will find that the default median angle is more than sufficient. So what does the gameplay consist of in the Championship and Versus modes? For the most part, it consists of you riding for three laps (or more if you increase the number of laps the options screen) around a race track. The object is to pass the buoy on the correct side. Yellow buoys (signified by a yellow buoy with a yellow arrow above it pointing to the left) must be passed on the left side. Red buoys (signified by a red buoy with a red arrow above it pointing to the right) must be passed on the right side. The game throws a mixture of these on a race track. As you get onto the higher levels, you'll notice the buoys sometimes get closer together and sometimes you must go a little bit out of your way to pass one of them. What happens if you don't pass a buoy on the correct side? You'll lose all your power. Your power meter at the bottom of the screen is very important; it consists of five arrows that light up one at a time for each buoy you pass. So if you pass five buoys in a row, then you'll be at maximum power. Maximum power enables your jet ski to go its top speed. But if you should happen to miss one buoy, then you lose all your power. So no matter if you have two arrows, three arrows or maximum power, if you miss a buoy, then you lose all of whatever power you had. You'll have to pass buoys consecutively to build it back up. You can miss up to four buoys on a track (this can also be changed in the option mode). If you miss a buoy a fifth time, then you are automatically disqualified and get zero points. A winner of the entire circuit is determined by the total number of points they have at the end of the final round. You get 7 points for first place, 4 points for second place, 2 points for third place and 1 point for fourth place. Then depending on the difficulty level, the game sets a minimum point total you have to have after EACH course. So on Hard, maybe you'll need 1 point total after the first race and 3 points total after the second race that you need to achieve to be able to move on. You are required to get a first place at the end of the circuit to move on to the next difficulty level. The Championship mode contains four different difficulty levels: Normal, Hard, Expert and Reverse. Each new difficulty level opens up a new track to play. In total, there are nine tracks to race on, including the practice Dolphin Park board, though it cannot be raced on as a regular course; it's just there for practice. The tracks in Wave Race 64 provide an incredible mixture of different wave patterns and different locales. From the lavish orange water and sun reflections of Sunset Bay to the misty environment of Milky Lake to the huge waves of Southern Island, Wave Race 64 takes the gamer on an incredible aesthetic journey, with some great gameplay, through nature's most abundant resource. Although early versions of Wave Race 64 took place on an open ocean, the courses in the final version are now much more lively, detailed and confined. Players may experience a little initial trouble navigating the courses the first few times, but they will quickly memorize the pattern and course layout within a short period of time. Artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled racers in Wave Race 64 is actually pretty good. With the exception of a few loopholes (noticeably on Sunset Bay on Expert level), the computer will almost always give you a good race being only seconds behind -- that is, if you're not behind them. Unlike other games, the computer doesn't cheat, either. They sometimes fall off their jet skis and you can knock them off, too. They actually race very similar to how a human opponent would on the respective difficulty level. As with any racing game, the majority of the replay value comes courtesy of the two-player mode. Wave Race 64 does have an awesome one-player mode, but the split-screen, two-player simultaneous mode is quite good, too. The Versus mode, which is the two-player mode in the game, pits you and your friend on the track by yourselves. You each pick the driver of choice (fortunately, you can both pick the same driver), and then pick the board of choice. All boards that you got to in the one-player mode are accessible in the two-player mode. Amazingly, the one-on-one race is quite fun even though you can't race with the computer, something that other racing games I lambasted cannot say. Depending on the board, you also can pick between the different difficulty levels to race on. For example, playing on Normal difficulty means the shortcuts of a few boards will not be open. If you move it up to Hard difficulty, the shortcuts will then be accessible. You also have the opportunity to put a handicap on your opponent if one player is far better than the other. Another interesting spin to put on the two-player mode is to go into the Options mode and set the Type of Wave. Wave Race 64 appears to follow the lines of F-Zero and Super Mario Kart in the way of replay value. Like F-Zero, Wave Race 64 has a great Time Attack mode which will hound you to constantly beat your best times. There's also a Score Attack mode to try to pull off some great stunts. Even the one-player mode can provide a challenge. And like Super Mario Kart, the game includes a great two-player mode. While maybe not as fun as Mario Kart, Wave Race 64 has one of the best two-player modes so far in this new generation of video games. A game can truly be called revolutionary when the gameplay is actually enhanced thanks to its eye-candy. Wave Race 64 is one of the very, very few games to combine incredible visuals, great gameplay because of the visuals, and originality because of its visuals. As much as a step as we thought Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 were above other games, Wave Race 64 is great a step beyond those two games. To put it simply, you won't find more realistic looking water anywhere else. The graphics in Wave Race 64 don't look spectacular because the game is "on rails." The game is actually fully 3-D like Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 because you can turn around at any time, go backwards if you want, and just plain go anywhere you want, although that may not be wise in an important race. Besides the amazing wave effects, which are perpetually calculated in real-time for random results, Wave Race 64 also includes a host of other amazing graphical effects, including real-time lens flares, fogging and reflections. The second course, Sunset Bay, includes sunspots that almost "blind" you as you go around a certain bend. The third course, Milky Lake, includes thick morning fog, which burns off towards the end of the second lap. Once the fog burns off, you're treated to incredible reflections on the water. On the downside, most of the aforementioned special effects are not in the two-player mode. In order to keep the game at a good speed in the two-player mode, they had to get rid of those special effects. On the upside, you'll find that the two-player is not letterboxed as much as the one-player. Quite honestly, though, you probably won't even notice the letterboxing in either the one- or two-player modes. Possibly one of the most impressive effects you're treated to is in the screen where you enter your initials for getting a high score. Incredibly realistic water and rippling effects as the letters "come out" of the ocean. It's almost impossible to describe and must be seen to be believed. Another equally impressive facet of the graphics is the actual game engine. Although this is obviously a much more easier environment to deal with, Wave Race 64 contains pretty much no pop-up, almost no clipping, distant horizons, and no pixelation -- all in addition to the incredible wave effects. Quite a turnaround from Mario 64. You'll also find that the game is smooth as can be. While I can't judge how many frames per second the game is (nor do I care to), you can be sure that there's no choppiness here. The sound in Wave Race 64 is equally amazing in its own right. The music is actually pretty good. Better than I thought it would be -- that is, when you can actually hear it. Unfortunately, there is no way to adjust the sound level for the sound effects or background music. This would be very helpful since the sounds of the waves crashing dominate all other sounds in the two-player mode. The shining star of the sound has to be the incredible voice and sound effects, though. The sound effects of the jet skis, waves, seagulls, etc., in the environment are amazingly realistic. And the announcer's voice is just utterly mind-blowing. (Apparently, he's the same guy who did the voice for Rock 'n' Roll Racing on the 16-bit systems.) Although he may get a little repetitive, he never really gets to the point of being annoying. How they fit all of this voice in a 64 megabit cart is beyond me. Wave Race 64 is an extremely polished package and doesn't feel rushed at all. You can't really say anything negative about the graphics. The control is simple and exacting. The sound is very impressive, though I'm sure even more speech would help enhance the game. There are plenty of options, and you can save your total and individual lap times for each track to the EEPROM chip. I guess if you had to suggest some improvements to this game, then it would have to be more tracks. Although eight tracks is actually a lot by 32-bit standards, the game just leaves you wanting more. What can you say about Wave Race 64? It's an incredible racing game that not only shows off the power of the Nintendo 64 but also enhances the gameplay thanks to the technology. Some gamers may even find themselves liking it more than Mario 64, though I wouldn't go as far as to say that. There is just hardly anything wrong with this game at all. It comes highly recommended to all Nintendo 64 owners. Expect it to be right along the side of F-Zero and Super Mario Kart as a classic racing game.

Graphics: 4.8 out of 5 Sound: 4.1 out of 5 Control: 4.5 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.7 out of 5 Lastability: 4.5 out of 5 Overall: 4.7 out of 5

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