Forget EVERYTHING you know about water racing games. That probably won’t take much effort, but let’s take Wave Race for example. You know that slow struggle to shift your weight as you set yourself up for the mercy of the waves? Well now you can FORGET that! Hydro Thunder says no to physics as you fly through the water at 350kph. It’s set in the future with advanced boats and stadiums with multi-layered water racetracks… and dinosaurs. What future is this? Forget that too. There’s no story or lore here. That only slows us down. We’re going racing!
Wow look at the crowd! Not an empty seat to be seen, and not a dry one either by the end of THIS race! Whoosh! These boats handle with a lot more precision than what should be physically possible, making it quite accessible for a water racer. It leans more on the arcade side and you can tell straight away when the craft actually responds left and right immediately after you accelerate. In a more realistic game like Wave Race, you would need to build speed before that thing is even going to turn properly but this game has a bit of lenience. There’s still quite a bit of resistance to the water at top speed, but it doesn’t require too much adapting. It’s an exciting mix of F-Zero hovercraft and surface water racing. Let me add quickly that I absolutely love Wave Race and the challenge of riding the waves, but this is a very different take on the genre.
The fast responsive controls allow for some immensely over-the-top track designs. You have varied colourful environments with multiple events going on and shortcuts all over the place. There are so many alternate paths that each track has 10 hidden tokens to find. Your boat can jump with the X button which adds even more possibilities. The track itself evolves and can be different on every lap depending on what’s happening. Bombs drop in the water, dinosaurs jump around, tracks deform and offer different paths each lap, UFOs abduct you and random pirate ships will try to crash into you. Some tracks are just one long lap.
With a strong sense of speed, dynamic water physics, busy track design and events happening with 15 other opponents in the mix, it’s a very thrilling experience. I don’t think I’ve played anything like it on the water. The water adds this soothing balance that calms down the chaos.
The wave physics are pretty much all or nothing, so a major skill in this game is simply paying attention to your surroundings and timing when you turn and slow down. You also have to watch out for big waves launching you upwards, which can cause you to miss a boost or gates or just fly into the wall. Seeing a plane fly past in spectacular fashion creates two different elements. The first is that it looks amazing, and the second is that it’s about to change the gameplay as the plane drops a bomb and causes a wave. It can be challenging but the controls remain fairly simple as long as you stay calm.
This game looks good, feels good, runs at 60fps, has a very accessible no-nonsense structure and is extremely fun to play. It’s also got an appropriate sense of humour right from the start with witty menu descriptions, corny racer names and a sarcastic announcer. If you do poorly he’ll say “let me drive next time” and if you get a collectible he’ll have no idea what it is, “ooooo a shiny thing“. It’s a very fun game that doesn’t waste your time. There are 8 tracks in total, 3 difficulty levels (the speed gets higher as you go up), a ring-chase mode, and gauntlet that puts explosive barrels all over the course. There’s also a multiplayer mode that’s probably dead online, but it offers 4 player local split screen which is a feature that will never die.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a game I would never have played without Game Pass. It’s a last-gen X360 game that’s available to download on Xbox One but you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It installs and launches even faster than an actual XB1 game. The only downside is I couldn’t get great screenshots of it to do it justice, but you’ll have to take my word that it looks way better in motion (or watch that clip above, here’s another with bad gameplay). This is one of those hidden Game Pass gems where I actually feel guilty for not giving the devs any money. There are 3 DLC tracks but the menu option for download content just gives an error now. I’m really happy I played this and would recommend it to anyone looking for a racing game that is really easy to learn but hard to master. Just make sure you have a towel handy.