As vultures circled the crippled Midway and picked off scraps of IP, a number of surprising names were gathered up. Most, including Mortal Kombat and Wheelman, went to Warner Bros; but during the fire sale Microsoft also picked up the rights to Hydro Thunder, a powerboat racing game that had enjoyed moderate success on the N64. Could the publisher that originally brought us Blood Wake be buoyed by another water-based game?
Simply booting up Hyrdo Thunder Hurricane feels as though you’ve been transported back to the arcades of the late 90s. Colours are bold and bright, featuring a tropical island, a collection of outlandish boats, and an overenthusiastic announcer that feels the need to shout every selection you’ve made back at you. This may not be a remake, but it definitely keeps the original’s spirit.
Your initial race, too, will keep that feeling of arcade nostalgia flowing as all of Hurricane’s courses are extreme notions of what powerboat racing should be. At first you’ll find yourself racing through the river rapids of an approximation of the Grand Canyon, weaving in and out of rocky outcrops, jumping off some huge waterfalls and working your way through underground caves. Soon you’ll be tacking round Tokyo stadium circuits, riding through frozen stretches to Asgard, and causing waves in lost Incan cities, each bringing their own visual twist to proceedings.
Vector Unit has spent a lot of effort packing each track with shortcuts, secrets and set pieces, each adding to Hurricane’s replay value. Smashing through a hitherto solid wall might not just shave seconds off your time, but also lead to a giant dinosaur rearing up through the water, or provide you with a collectible token to unlock new skins for your boats. One run is never enough to see everything a track has to offer.
Of course, it isn’t just about the outlandish courses; it’s about racing, and racing on the wet stuff feels as though you have taken a car that not only understeers but also insists on powersliding round every bend. It’s a different kettle of fish to traditional racers as the wonderful wave system, influenced by everything from falling rocks to the other vehicles, provides a unique set of challenges as it buffets and harasses you, causing no end of course alterations on particular choppy seas. Handily, though, your boat does have a boost installed, which when engaged gives you a huge increase in straight line speed, or in short bursts can help execute a tricky turn.
New boats are unlocked as you progress, but, whilst their increased stats will assist in handling and speed, unless you’ve wrapped your head around the general physics involved in manoeuvring your vessel the faster times will elude you.
Away from straight racing, there’s also Ring Master and Gauntlet modes. The former places a path of rings on the circuit, the aim being to snake through them all, whilst the latter is a regular time trial mode… there just happens to be explosive barrels littering the course. Both are not only welcome additions to the package but also end up teaching a lot about the tracks and the boats, as the rings occasionally lead you through trickier shortcuts and the barrels encourage a player to learn how to confidently handle their vehicle at speed.
Hyrdro Thunder Hurricane might not hit the dizzy heights of last year’s Summer of Arcade, but it is a surprisingly solid game, given its decade absence. Packed with a large amount of replay value and a level of exploration not usually associated with racing games, it offers something different to others in its genre.