Can you smell what this Sea-Doo is cooking?
Extreme sports seem to be all the rage in video games these days. Ever since Tony Hawk flipped, manualed, and grinded his way to the bank, developers have been looking for the next big extreme sport moneymaker. With snowboarding becoming a mild success and surfing wiping out so far, what's next? Well, Nintendo just put out another Wave Race, Eidos is coming with Wave Rally, and Infogrames has just released Splashdown, so I guess someone decided that Jet skiing was the Next Big Thing.
Sponsored by Sea Doo, the biggest name in jet skis, Splashdown combines aqua racing with air trickery like you've never seen before. I expected just another Xtreme joke with ho-hum gameplay and more Xtreme rock, but what I got was a pleasant surprise. The annoying rock is still there, but I must say that this ride is a lot more fun than I though it would be.
The object of the game is simple - cross the finish line before any of the other racers. There's actually more involved than you think. Speed is not only based one a particular racer's statistics, but his or her stunts as well. Start pulling off some cool tricks and your maximum speed will increase. You'll also have to keep it up because the bonus speed meter gradually decreases over time. And to make things even more challenging, you'll have to perform a variety of stunts since repeats are not worth as much. It's similar to the system in SSX, but there's more.
Thanks to some pretty good physics, leaning will also affect what happens to your craft. Leaning back will pull the jet ski's nose out of the water and make it go noticeably faster. Going forward will help slow it down and make tight turns a lot easier. Bet you didn't know riding a jet ski was that complicated.
The stunts in Splashdown look great with a nice-sized move list to execute. And better yet, doing them doesn't require a PhD in the nautical physics ratio of H2O to O2, whatever that means. Again, it's similar to SSX by relying on the triggers, which is handy and intuitive. Each racer has his or her own signature stunts as well, lending some depth.
Unlike Wave Race, Splashdown does not put much of an emphasis on slaloming buoys. A few of them are scattered throughout each course, but missing them won't lead to an automatic disqualification. Instead, it will just cause you to stall and lose some of your bonus speed.
Also unlike Nintendo's game, Splashdown courses are filled to the brim with interesting bits. You'll find plenty of crazy paths, a few shortcuts and even obstacles littering the way. It's a much more lively set of courses, plus there are 18 to blast through.
One thing that seems to be missing is some weather effects. It isn't sunny every day, but for the most part the waves are pretty tame. It would be nice to see an occasional storm stirring up some bigger swells.
Speaking of which, the water looks pretty good. Everything else in the game looks fine, but the water effects steal the show. If only they could have made the "splash" effect more realistic, the presentation would have been near perfect.
In addition to the single player Career mode, there are also a few multiplayer games to enjoy. Circuit is the basic race, Countdown has you collecting balloons for time, and Copycat has each player trying to copy the other ala HORSE. Very standard.
The audio portion of the game is also standard, particularly the music. Apparently when no one was looking, developers decided to make pop-punk the official theme of all Xtreme games. Not surprisingly, there's more of it here with Sum 41 and Blink 182 leading the way. Guess it's all a matter of preference. However, all will agree that the voice acting in Splashdown is far from quality work. Instead of normal speech, players are forced to swallow badly stereotypical racial accents that border on being offensive. Oh well, I guess there are worse things we could be listening to, right Infogrames?
In this young field of jet ski racing games, Splashdown is ahead of the pack. Easy to handle control, a decent trick system, and the all important water physics are down pat. A little more tuning and this jet ski will really be able to eat up the competition.