Re-Living the Past: Wave Race 64

History

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.

Personal History

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Good

-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 Bad

-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.

12 Comments
13 Comments
Posted by JasonR86

History

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.

Personal History

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Good

-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 Bad

-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.

Online
Posted by Nentisys

I remember playing this at a friends house and it was pretty sweet.

Posted by Claude

I bought this game on the VC after not playing it since in came out in '96. I absolutely adored the original. It didn't take me long to get back into the swing of things once I booted it up. I beat the single player in about 4 hours. The game is still a blast to play. I've yet to defeat mirror mode, something I did do way back when.

Posted by JasonR86

@Claude:

I beat the mirror mode. AI-wise it is similar to the Export mode. I have it on the VC as well. That really is the way to play the game now. Going back to the N64 like I did was a bit weird. That controller is weird to use now and the game does look a lot better through component cables and 480p.

@Nentisys:

Yes it was.

Online
Posted by dudeglove

I remember playing the shit out of this at the local video game store and not regretting a single moment. Didn't Miyamoto come out with some ridiculous remark that the game "used 80% of the N64's power"?

Posted by 71Ranchero

Wave Race was a fun game. It was kind of the first time anyone said "wow, look at that water" at least on a console. It might not sound like a big deal too younger gamers but at the time it was amazing. I dont think anyone even came close to topping Wave Race until Bloodwake(also a fantastic game) came out on the original Xbox.

I would like to know why Nintendo does not do more with this franchise. "Mario's Wave Race: Motion!" would sell like hotcakes fresh off the griddle.

Posted by JasonR86

@dudeglove:

I remember hearing something about that as well. You know, it could be true seeing as how the water physics were likely a huge processing and memory draw.

@Atramentous:

I remember really liking the Wave Race for the Gamecube. It could be that it wasn't a good seller so they decided to hold off on making new ones. I still get excited when I see good water effects. I'm still stuck in the old age I gues.

Online
Posted by 71Ranchero

@JasonR86 said:

@Atramentous:

I remember really liking the Wave Race for the Gamecube. It could be that it wasn't a good seller so they decided to hold off on making new ones. I still get excited when I see good water effects. I'm still stuck in the old age I gues.

I didnt like it for some reason. It just felt "off".

Also I forgot about Hydrothunder. That game also had some great faked physics water.

Posted by on3moresoul

Im curious to know how you would feel about a modern day version of this game. Personally I would love to see it with updated visuals and AI, but I am left wondering if I really would enjoy a more physics real version or keep the waves a bit crazy as you have mentioned. Thoughts anyone?

Posted by JasonR86

@on3moresoul:

I don't know. From the business side of things arcade racers haven't sold recently as much as they used to. They would really need to update how the single player campaign works so that there is more 'game for your dollar' and have a solid online component (something Nintendo isn't great at). I don't know if I would want realistic water effects exactly. But I would want things to feel more natural. For example, I would want the waves to behave more naturally in smaller channels versus larger, more open areas. Further, I would want the jet skis to act more naturally with the waves (for example, given the jet skis weight so that they can plow through waves depending on circumstances). I think the Gamecube version of Wave Race had a really nice balance between crazy and realistic water physics. If they just updated the physics from that game for a new game I would be satisfied.

Online
Posted by WickedCobra03

I actually played the heck out of this game when I was a kid, and didnt end up owning it until like 2000 or 2001 due to jusr being able to play it at all my friends houses. I loved the music and weather effects in this game and anytime i see a screenshot of the game or hear one of the tunes frok the original, i get a good kick of nostolgia.

So come 2001 I bought Wave Race: Blue Storm as one of the launch titles for the Gamecube and my friends and I continued to play the hell out of that back in the day. I actually brought out Blue Storm for the Gamecube yesterday morning after breakfast. That is sadly now where most of my gaming time goes... Maybe the half-hour I play on a Saturday or Sunday morning each werk, and its usually an old Genesis or Snes/Nes game with the exception that I pull out the; Saturn, N64, Dreamcast or Ganecube to get my weekly half-hour or hour game time in each week. :(. I just dont have the time as I once did, but still like to take it easy on the weekend and try to play a little aomething even if it isn't a new current gen game most of the time.

Anyway, good write up... Cool little series that youbhave going!

Posted by Skytylz

I had this game, my dad got it randomly for me one day if I remember correctly. It was alright, but my brother and I never really got into it that much.

Posted by procrasturbate

First game i got with my N64 back in the day. Loved it.