Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 11/05/01 | Genre: Driving
It isn't whether you win or lose, but how phat was the trick you pulled. Welcome to Splashdown, SS Tricky on water- a game where losing isn't so bad if the air you got while performing the Kiss of Death keeps mouths dropped after watching the replay of your record-setting run. Unfortunately this style of game will forever draw comparisons to the Wave Race series, but even so, Rainbow Studio's racer is done extremely well. It's a simple game with simple buttons and unbelievable gameplay that add up to one of the best wave racing experiences since the Wave Race series.
Brought over from the PS2, the Xbox has tweaked some graphical details and expanded on the track count, adding two new tracks: Florida Keys and Ruminer Point. It is a shame that Rainbow Studios didn't go back and revamp all the tracks to look these new ones. Water has never looked so good- so good in fact that it'll make you thirst (or wet your pants if you have to go). While there are no crashing waves, the sun shimmers and reflects nicely across the rippling water, and the few ocean-side courses do have rolling mounds of water that are enough to rock your boat. The four racers you can initially chose from and four additional ones that can be unlocked are animated well, moving with your turns and flipping on the airborne Sea-Doo as you pull over 30+ stunts such as Superman and Whirlybird. Your watercraft is scaled perfectly to the actual thing and interacts smoothly with the water's physics. Spray and wake are all here in Splashdown with the sweetest part actually being the replay of your best lap on each course. The camera swerves and cuts to catch every turn, dip, and nasty trick your racer pulled during the race.
The music fits the game's theme well with such popular artists as Smathmouth and Blink 182. Though some may find this annoying just because these songs have been playing for quite sometime now, ripping a new soundtrack on the Xbox hard drive easily nullifies this complaint. Before the race you'll hear the gurgling of the wave runner's engine. Each character has a somewhat unique voice that can be heard as they perform stunts or even trash talking their opponents when they're near, but their lines get repetitive and are somewhat bland.
Rainbow Studios nicely includes a safety alert before the beginning of the game to ensure that all you geniuses out there don't actually try to reenact any of these maneuvers in the lake behind your house, or any other body of water. Tricks are easily performed using a combination of one or two button combos with a direction of the thumbstick or D-pad. Mastering the more difficult tiers of stunts takes a bit of practice, but there are plenty of easier ones to start off on. Successfully landing these maneuvers adds to a meter, which increases the overall performance of your craft. Easier tricks increase the meter slightly, while more dangerous stunts peak the meter more rapidly. Holding any trick longer for a quicker increase. The A button gives your wave runner its go-go juice and handling your racer is done with the thumbstick or D-pad. Pushing forward dips your craft to take sharper turns or, if you're in the air, gets you back in the water quicker (the only reason you need to do this is if you don't have enough air to pull a move). Pulling back allows you to hydroplane, lessening your contact on the water, and enabling you to go faster. Warning: do not do this while turning because it will kill your turning radius and slow down your acceleration. Trying to hydroplane too soon out of a trick or turn causes you to skip or flip and we all can guess that this is a bad thing. Slightly dipping your runner beneath the water then quickly pulling back hops or jumps the Sea-Doo over obstacles such as buoys, logs, and sand dunes. The controls are simple and pretty standard for this type of game, though more complex stunts can be testing because, while you could have sworn pressed all the buttons for the reverse handstand, your racer just jiggles in the seat. Like anything, practice, practice, practice and soon Tier 3 will seem like child's play.
Racing in Splashdown can been done in a number of different fashions: a 12-20 race career (depending on difficulty), versus mode, or arcade style. Training is included for those of you who feel the need to train. Only career mode allows you to unlock other tracks, wet suits, and characters. A suggestion is to pay extreme attention to each track when you're on your pre-race qualifier because as you continue to try to qualify, it is possible to grab these various icons. If you don't catch them during the pre-qualifier or race, you can't go back and try later without starting over. After every three races there is a challenge round that takes place in an indoor course. Here you chose your opponent, and if you win then that person is added to your roster of possible alternate racers. In arcade, you can race circuit, time trials, countdown, or free trials. Countdown is a fun option to traditional racing which has you catching colored balloons before time runs out. Copycat in versus mode is the most fun when playing with a friend. Basic follow the leader, each player gets a chance to pull off the most dangerous of tricks, and the follower has to repeat the trick. If you mess up, you get a letter, and spelling SPLASH labels you as the loser.
Optional difficulties and the mere challenge of getting better offer a little fun in replaying the game, but once you get a grasp of the racing style most of your time will be spent in championship mode, the high difficulty setting. With a few adjustments, this could have been the greatest wave racer since... well Wave Race, but even with that said, Splashdown makes good improvements on an already solid game.