Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Retro Review: Hydro Thunder Hurricane

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ht_hurricane_boxWhen I think of summer I think of warm sunshine, outdoor activities and blockbuster movies.  It doesn’t seem I’m alone, either.  Developer Vector Unit has taken all of the thrills of the classic arcade boating racer and compiled a sequel that delivers on all counts.  The only issue I can see is that it holds quite strong in the nostalgia factor and it may be difficult to convice those not familiar with the original that this is nothing more than just another arcade racer.

Hydro Thunder always seemed to me like the popular Nintendo series Wave Racedone right.  You race with boats and therefore are confined to the way a boat moves along water (and in the air in this title’s case).  It takes some getting used to, it rides too close to both racing sim and arcade racer at times, but once you’ve mastered the basics it really opens up.  There’s a little bit for everyone here including traditional races and tournament cups, missions where you have to drive through rings along the track, and “gauntlet” missions where almost every corner and main drag is loaded with explosions.  Most people may take a moment or two with the various modes, but the draw of Hurricane is clearly in the traditional boat races against 16 opponents.

As a fan of the original arcade, I can’t seem to remember doing anything more than racing against people.  The new rings and gauntlet modes were probably good ideas in the development studio, but seem to exploit the more annoying aspects of boat racing.  Anyone who’s driven a boat knows that it’s all about anticipating what’s coming and trying to react appropriately, which means that tracks with obstacles that come out of nowhere seem unfair.  With the length of the tracks and the fact that most require multiple laps, it’s just frustrating to do a near perfect run and then have it all taken away at the end due to one or two screw ups.  For me, this is where the extra modes, while appreciated, ultimately prove to be unnecessary and had me shifting all my focus to racing.

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When you start racing in Hurricane a smile is immediately brought across your face.  It’s no longer about your screw ups or faults, but more about beating the person in front of you and just like recent releases Split/Second and Blur, every race that doesn’t see you in 1st place is a fun new challenge.  With the other modes, nothing changes.  You drive the same track with things in the same place and it’s all about the perfect run.  When racing, the variables drive your urge to keep playing the same scenario over and over again.  Integrate offline or online multiplayer, which can only be used for racing, and you have a reason to return to this title a lot.  With eight tracks, this title doesn’t bring much less than a full retail release and it has successfully captured what makes its more expensive competitors so addicting.

Screenshots from this title don’t do Hurricane justice – it is beautiful.  Sure, it doesn’t have the gusto to compete with hard hitters like Gears of War but the lush environments and dynamic color choices make up for it.  Water effects leave some realism to be desired, but then again Hydro Thunder does beg a suspension of disbelief to play.  Little details like water splashing across your screen or brief moments of scripted events were definitely appreciated.  Sound design, on the other hand, seemed a bit more run of the mill.  A standard announcer and basic catchy beat accompany you along every track and I must admit there was some clear effort with water-based sound effects, but it’s all pretty forgettable.  This is where the ability to use your own music as a custom soundtrack really enhances a game like Hydro Thunder and is highly recommended.

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Hydro Thunder Hurricane should be embraced as a game equivalent to a summer blockbuster film.  It’s not perfect – the controls still feel a bit sluggish and unresponsive at times and the AI balance goes from simple to impossible quickly – but you have to love it for what it is: just plain fun.  It never forgets its roots and makes enough enhancements to make it a steal for fans of the original in the arcades (remember we paid $1 per credit on that machine).  It does come at a time where the market is a bit oversaturated on arcade racers, but at it’s price this may be a strength in separating Hurricane from the pack.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane is available on XBLA and was purchased by the reviewer for $15 (1200 MS points).  It was completed in 4 hours with an overall playtime of 8 hours.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on August 3, 2010, at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 7.5 out of 10.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 11, 2014 at 11:00 am

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