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Wave Race 64

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Reviewed by J.M.Vargas With the recently released "Top Gear Rally" already going through the mixed review routine (many like its realism, tight control and sharp graphics; others say the bad music, lacking two-player option and boredom level make it a dud), its now more than ever than "Wave Race 64" shows itself as the premier racing title for the Nintendo 64. Sure, there will be plenty of racing action heating the platform in the near future ("San Francisco Rush", "Lamborghini 64" and "Rev Limits", to name three), but will they play as good as they look? And will they look as good as "Wave Race 64"? Released in November of 1996, this water jet ski racer sold out mostly because the audience was hungry for anything N64 after the shock of "Super Mario 64" and "Pilotwings" faded. Not that this 64-bit upgrade from a little known 1992 Game Boy title didn't have plenty of merits by itself: stunning graphical presentation, life-like water effects, supreme control and playability, etc. This was also the first game that allowed multi-player gaming via split-screen between two players. I wasn't really planning on buying the game when I stumbled upon a free copy when visiting an EB store in upstate New York; knowing it would be sold out until after the Christmas rush of 1996, I took the bait and bought the cartridge along with a red controller. In a nutshell, "Wave Race 64" is still the best realistic racer available on the N64 (and that will probably remain true until "San Francisco Rush" gets released in November) with supreme controllability and unequaled eye candy (even on two-player mode). "Mario Kart 64", although a cartoony racer, is a more fun and polished multiplayer game due to the fact that "Wave Race" is too simple and repetitive for two players. Where "Waver Race 64" excels is in the number of options it offers for the single player game, with a wide assortment of challenges and competitive CPU-driven challengers (no fake, poor Artificial Intelligence...yes!). Did I mention the game has graphics from the Gods, with the most realistic water ever seen on a gaming platform? I'd like to see the price tag a Pentium PC with graphic acceleration would run in order to emulate what this $150 console achieves without breaking a sweat (not even in two player mode).


The best way to value this game's performance is to compare it with other racers on all platforms: on the N64 this game is still graphically unmatched by either "Mario Kart 64", "Multi Racing Championship" or "Top Gear Rally" (although the last one has some neat features like the ability to customize your car's artwork). On the Sega Saturn, only "Sega Rally Championship" stands up to the challenge and actually compares quite favorably to "Wave Race 64": they both have tight control and a split-screen for two-player gaming that kills the graphical background in exchange of a kick-ass framerate ("Sega Rally" also has Net Link compatibility for internet gaming, the only console racer to date that has that feature). Sony's PSX, a system with racers coming out at record numbers, doesn't have a game with the complete package intact: some look better ("Ridge Racer" series, "Porsche Challenge", etc.), others are a mixed bag (Accolade's "Test Driver" series, "Need For Speed" series, etc.). The closest comparison to "WaveRace 64" would be Singletrac's "Jet Moto"...enough said! The closest comparison to the graphical eyecandy in Dr. Miyamoto's game comes from the arcade Jet Ski simulators from Konami, Namco and Sega, and only "Wave Runner" (a Model 2 based arcade game from Sega) has better-looking water and paths. With a steady 30 frames-per-second, lens flare effects (Sunset Bay), water that can be calm or rough depending on the tide and activity surrounding it, "Wave Race" features graphics at home that people would pay money at an arcade to play. With nine tracks available for all sorts of racing action (from the iceberg-covered Glacier Coast to the "Waterworld"-inspired Marine Fortress), "Wave Race" offers plenty of choices of where to race the watercraft (lack of tracks is the one key flaw that can sink a game; think of Sega's "Manx TT"). There is variety in all tracks, and each have adverse obstacles and ever-changing wave patterns to contend with. The only problem is the look of the racers: they have jointless limbs that resemble stick figures more than competing racers. And what's with the ridiculous artwork of the outfits they wear? A guy wears what looks like a little ducky helmet, and other has a greenish fish-skin look to his suit. Only A. Stewart, the woman, has a halfway decent outfit that doesn't distract from the action and looks cool. Also, the split-screen, two-player mode removes most of the detail from the background: buildings, trees, spectators...they're gone. But the waves are still there, and the frame rate is kept at 30 per second; the game, therefore, is not affected.


One of the few N64 games that allow you to listen to the game's music with an Audio Option (only "Tetrisphere" and "Mace: The Dark Ages" have the same option that I'm aware of); why can't other games provide this feature? I'd like to listen to some "Super Mario 64" tunes without having to play the game. Unfortunately the music in "Wave Race" just plain sucks! Not since the NES has the music in a game made me this sick; it's obvious the graphics and playability took precedence over the aural pleasure of the gamer. You may silence the game if you so desire in the options; I'd suggest you take a good listen and adjust it to you liking. The sound effects are simple and clean: the crash of the waves against your watercraft and surrounding structures, the roar of your engine and those of competing watercraft (gets louder or softer depending on the distance), and the constant yelling/screaming from the racers as they crash against one another. The announcer is a little hyper and overenthusiastic for my taste, but has a large amount of speech samples that actually help and taunt the player's racing experience (think of the "Ridge Racer" announcer on drugs). If it weren't for the cheesy-as-hell music, this could easily score a B+ in the audio department.


If a game ever screamed for Rumble Pack compatibility it is this one! Having never driven a watercraft before, I had no idea how much inertia, gravity and tactile response were required to ride on top of waves. The slightest tap on the stick will affect the way your racer interacts with the water; since you can customize the game's elements (random wave patterns, grip/acceleration of the racers, etc.). As in real life, the racer's attributes play a big part in the way the watercraft controls: the heavy guy can't take off as fast as the other players, or accelerate to those speeds but he cannot be knocked off by waves, crashes or other waves as easily as M. Jeter or A. Stewart. For the record: the names of the racers can be changed, and a Rumble Pack compatible version of "Wave Race 64" (with a ghost for racing against your best record) has been released in Japan and is rumored to be coming to America. You have plenty of options of what type of racing you want to experience: Championship pits you and the other three racers in a circuit featuring all the courses; you must play in Normal and Hard in order to get access to Twilight City and Glacier Coast (as well as the other seven courses) in the Time Trial Mode (score your best time). Stunt mode lets the player go wild with all sort of water-based stunts to get points toward several secrets (like riding the Dolphin). Two-player mode is...well, you know. The game excels in the small touches that Dr. Miyamoto games are known for: the dolphin riding alongside you in the Practice mode, the ever-changing position of racers during the opening montage (are two ever the same?), the boxes with the profiles of the racers (in Championship mode) showing us that a racer has fallen off the watercraft by lowering the figure (and the edge of the box turning checkered when crossing the finish line), etc.


The best racer on the N64 isn't taking place over asphalt but over lakes, ponds and the open sea. The sequel should include more freedom to go anywhere and less restrictive tracks, better animation for the players, and polish the water effects a little better (by increasing the frame rate maybe). Rumble Pack compatibility will provide the sense of the tide changing, and increase the involvement of the player in the experience. But that's for the future: "Wave Race 64" is Nintendo 64's best racer until...when? "San Francisco Rush"? "F-Zero 64"? "Mario Kart 64 2" The suspense is killing me...and giving my bank account a swift kick in the butt.

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