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
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.
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
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.