By JasonR86 12 Comments
Wave Race 64 was originally released in 1996. It was one of the first Nintendo 64 games and was critically acclaimed (it has a score of '92' on Metacritic). The game was praised for its realistic water physics and balanced arcade-style racing.
I remember playing this game for the first time at a friend's house. I had a personal tie to Jet-Skis which caused me to have a special tie to this game in particular. I have found that when a video game capitalizes on one of my hobbies that video game ends up being special to me. This game was no exception. I thought it was a lot of fun to play, I thought the water physics were amazing, and that the handling was perfect.
What About Now?
A lot of time has passed since this game was new. What I've come to expect out of arcade races has changed quite a bit. Graphics have a much less influential effect on how I judge a game and, that said, the graphics in this game were bound to be very simple and old fashioned. I didn't know what to expect when I first started playing. I didn't want to try to play with just my rose-tinted glasses on. BUT, I also didn't want to be stuck on it's older design. So, how did this game stand the test of time?
Well, lets start with the gameplay. The primary mode, 'Championship', is a racing mode with multiple races and has three difficulties associated with it. The only time I found the game a bit challenging was with the hardest difficulty. The AI is a bit...wonky. They are a push over until the highest difficulty. At that point, the rubber-banding AI starts to set in. If one gets out ahead of the other racers at all the other races find super-powers within their jet skis that allow them to chase the player down. Add this rubber-banding to the fact that all of the racers, including the playable racer, takes up physical space and can hit one another you get a recipe for some frustration.
Actually controlling the jet ski is pretty good...until it gets pushed a little too far. You see, laid out through the course are slalom markers. One tells the racers to pass on the left of the marker and one for the right. This is fine and good because, for the most part, the player can easily control the jet ski through all of the markers. It starts to get a little rough as the higher difficulties are selected. You see, the jet skis have two turning styles; oversteer (meaning the jet skis turn too sharply) and understeer (meaning the jet skis turn too wide). It's a little rough to find that middle ground. And, as the high difficulties are selected, more slalom markers are put on the tracks which really causes the somewhat wonky handling to really push itself too far. Then you have the AI that, on the higher difficulties, continuously rams into everything (specifically you). And, then you have the waves...
So the wave physics were really amazing in 1996. Now...well, they're just kind of crazy. The act on the jet skis just like real waves would. But your jet ski acts like it is made out of rubber. It doesn't act like it has weight. One doesn't plow through the waves. Rather, one's jet ski bounces off of waves. This does happen in real life but just not to that degree. Every wave acts like a jump. Which, in turn, makes handling the jet skis even more chaotic. At times this can be really fun. But, it can lead to a lot of frustration as well. Then how the waves work are just weird. Waves are staged and planned at certain times. The game tries to make it look like the waves are random but, lets be honest, players will know when certain waves will occur at certain turns. The sense of random wave movement isn't really there. Then, just how they develop and grow are weird. Waves aren't caused by the jet skis' wakes for example. You would expect that in a small channel multiple jet skis would cause the waters to become pretty chaotic. Not in this game. Then the graphics...
The game is simple looking and colorful. Part of me really likes that. It's a nice aesthetic. It's old fashioned and new players may not appreciate this look as much as I do but I really thought it was attractive looking. It didn't look 'good' mind you. But it was nice. Where things get a little off is with the waves. Sometimes, the waves look really cool. But, man, can they look really bad too. The waves occasionally look like a mass of triangles (probably because, technically, I think they are) and not a smooth mass of water. It's hard to explain but it's easy to see when you play the game. The waves just look....odd.
The game holds up. Even without rose-tinted glasses. BUT, there's a caveat. The game is much more fun when you play the game on lower difficulties. There is a stunt mode but that is only really fun when you have other people to play with. But, as a single player game, it is fun for a few hours. Much beyond that, on the higher difficulties at least, one must be prepared for frustration.
-Simple and colorful graphics, a neat look back on the fist real attempt at wave physics in a 3D space, on lower difficulties the racing is very fun.
-The wave physics are a little crazy, the handling can be really rough, on higher difficulties the racing can be very frustrating, few tracks, few racers, and the game is short.