VIDEO GAMES: John Reviews “Hydro Thunder Hurricane” by Microsoft Studios on Xbox Live Arcade

If you’ve stopped at a highway rest stop anytime within the last eleven years, you’ve probably seen an arcade cabinet version of Hydro Thunder, Midway’s insanely popular and outlandish speedboat racing game.  Seriously, this game is everywhere when it comes to rest stops, even today!  But now, thanks to Microsoft Game Studios and Xbox Live Arcade, you can bring the fun of crazy speedboat racing home with Hydro Thunder Hurricane.  The original was a truly great arcade experience, and HT:H lives up to its pedigree.

HT:H is a simple-in-concept, elegant-in-execution racing game in which you compete against rival speedboats to see who can make it through courses that look like they were torn straight from the Universal Studios theme parks.  There are angry gods, sea monsters and enough explosions to satisfy Michael Bay.  To win, you’ll need to draft in your opponents wake for less water resistance, pick up boost powerups, and find dangerous and exciting shortcuts to the finish line.  All of these tricks make multiple playthroughs rewarding, and truly completion-hungry players can wrack their brains trying to find the ten hidden Hydro Thunder packages in every level for special bonuses like new paint jobs for their speedboats.

The game is not limited to traditional racing, however.  There are also additional modes like Ring Master, in which you must navigate your boat through a series of rings throughout the entire course, gaining speed with each successful passthrough and losing speed with every missed ring.  There is also a Gauntlet mode that spices up the standard time trial by adding exploding barrels at random intervals, and a combination of all three modes that gets a bit crazy.

While the selection of tracks and boats (and paint applications for boats) is extremely limited at first, each completed race earns points that go toward unlocking new tracks, boats, skins and modes.  The developers even added some nifty unlockable extras for Xbox Live such as gamer pictures and avatar items to keep players from getting bored.  It’s an old trick, but it works well and the accumulation of points helps to take some of the sting out of those second-place finishes.

While the gameplay may not have changed greatly since the end of the twentieth century, the graphics have been updated for the HD generation and the water effects (while imperfect) look impressive on most HDTV screens.  The design of the levels is extremely clever, and little presentation touches (like the player’s copilot and his tendency to blurt out either snarky, excited or terrified expressions) make sure that this game is nearly as entertaining to watch as it is to play.  If you’re looking for a fun racing game to enjoy with friends or alone this summer, or if you’re nostalgic for those trips to roadside rest stop arcades, Hydro Thunder: Hurricane won’t leave you all wet. (*sigh* I really just  wrote that, didn’t I?)

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