Over the past few winters, a trio of game companies figured that the best way to beat the wintertime blues would be to get out of the rain and get under the blazing, artificial sun of your TV screen while hitting the waves with an XTREME jet ski game. It didn't quite work out as planned, though, with one game causing XTREME bouts of nausea and the other floating along the current of XTREME mediocrity. The last, however, surprised us all with better than average gameplay and a huge trick list.
As is usually the case, the two weaker games have seemingly dropped off the planet and the good one has come back for another round of wild, environmentally-unfriendly action. Developer Rainbow Studios has partnered up with THQ for Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild, a new and improved ride that marks the "X" in Xtreme.
First, the basics. Rides Gone Wild offers several modes with which to quench your watercraft thirst. The Training mode kicks the game off with an opportunity to practice your trick skills and learn the ancient secrets of jet-ski control. Then there's Arcade mode, which gives you a variety of single-player game choices, including Circuit (race), Freestyle (stunt), and Time Trial (speed) options. There's also a Versus mode that allows you to compete head to head with a friend. Of course, most of your time will be spent in Career mode.
Career mode breaks down into the World (outdoor) and Stadium (indoor) championships. Both will have you choosing from a variety of racers, each with a different performance rating. You'll also choose a difficulty level that will determine not only how hard your opponents will be, but how many races you will run.
Just like the original, Rides Gone Wild offers decent jet-ski physics, with your craft responding to the water pretty realistically. Pulling back on straightaways will give you a little extra boost and nosing under the water a bit on turns will help keep you up to speed.
So what's new? Plenty. For starters, the trick system has been improved. Besides the huge list of wacky tricks, Rides Gone Wild allows you to string together combos for an even more impressive trickfest. It's still really easy to pull them off, with the push of a modifier button and a flip of the control stick, so you won't need to get caught up in a zillion crazy moves to do something cool. Not all moves can combo into each other, though, so if you want to be really good, you'll need to study the trick list.
The courses have also gotten a tremendous face-lift. With a theme park motif, Rides Gone Wild takes you through a land teeming with dinosaurs, a pirate's cove and even a flooded gold mine, among others. What's even better is that the courses are completely dynamic. Ships explode, obstacles will move and gates open up to reveal new routes with every completed lap. And just like the previous game, there are still plenty of hidden shortcuts to find. I haven't seen racing maps this good since SF Rush 2049.
Another fresh face for Rides Gone Wild is the Warehouse, where you'll be able to purchase a ton of unlockable gear with the points you accumulate in the game. You'll find a large helping of extra characters, suits, watercraft, tracks and more. The only problem is that the majority of these items can be unlocked as you progress naturally in the game without spending any points. Even though there's a boatload of stuff, it really won't take too long for you to unlock it all.
When things are up and running, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is quite pretty. The graphics are smooth and the churning waves look right. However, its performance suffers from aging hardware. The load times remind me of trying to download movies on a 56k connection, and with the dynamic environment, you'll definitely be seeing some slowdown when the action starts to get more intense.
But other than that, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild has proven itself to be an enjoyable substitute for H2O worshippers on those days when you just can't make it to the beach. High speed and high flying stunts through creative locations beats watching the rocks grow any day of the week.