Review: Wave Race 64 (N64)

In this review, we splash down into Wave Race 64. We find out if this watercraft racing game is good for a replay.

This game was released in 1996 and would be a launch title for the Nintendo 64 console. Other launch titles for the N64 console included Super Mario 64 (which earned a high rating here), and Cruis’n USA (which received an above average rating here).

Wave Race 64 was an unconventional, though not entirely unique, racing game at the time. You race as one of the four feature characters in the game. These characters are Ryota Hayami, Miles Jeter, Ayumi Stewart, and Dave Mariner. Each character have their own strengths and weaknesses which including steering, acceleration, and top speed.

The main mode in this racing game is the championship mode. You simply start with the normal difficulty, if you win, you get the hard difficulty, then the expert difficulty, and ultimately the reverse difficulty. The harder the difficulty, the more difficult the courses and your opponents become. Additionally, there are more courses to complete as you progress to the harder difficulties.

In championship mode, there are only four competitors including you. While this doesn’t seem like much, the courses offer plenty of things to worry about besides the other three racers. You have to contend with random waves that can send you unexpectedly into the air. You’ll also have sand bars, walls, and fences to contend with. If that weren’t enough, you also have slalom style buoy’s to race through. The yellow “L” ones make you go left while the red “R” ones demand you go right.

As you go through a buoy, you’ll get an additional flag added to your overall power. You can get a maximum of 5. If you light up all 5, you’ll get maximum power which will enable you to get the most out of your watercraft performance. The downside is that if you miss one, you’ll lose all of your power and you’ll use up one of your chances. You have a limited number of chances (the number depending on the difficulty). If you miss enough, you’ll be forced to retire from the race. So clearing most of these is pretty much a requirement as you race.

At the end of each race, you’ll get a certain number of championship points. Finishing 1st will net you 7 points. 2nd place will earn you 5 points. 3rd place will give you 2 points. 4th place will leave you with a measly 1 point. If you are forced to retire, you’ll be disqualified from the race with 0 points (though you can continue on in the championship if you’ve accumulated enough points from previous races). Each race will also have a required number of points to continue. Fail to get enough points and you’ll be eliminated from the championships. If you win, you’ll unlock courses and harder difficulties.

You’ll also have the opportunity to have a warm up race before racing in the normal championship. You’ll find yourself in dolphin beach with the first set of instructions being to follow a dolphin. You can practice the moves described in the instructions or practice in any way you want. There’s no real requirements or benefits, so you can practice until your hearts content here.

Another mode is the time trial mode which basically allows you to race in any race you’ve unlocked in an effort to finish in the fastest times possible. It’s just you and the clock.

There is also stunt mode which is just the other races (dolphin park is available in this mode too), only you are trying to earn stunt points. You have to clear the checkpoints in a certain amount of time and finishing quickly can earn you some bonus points. Checkpoints are also worth points. To add to this, there are rings in the course. Each ring is worth 50 points individually, but if you clear a set of rings, each additional ring you pass through earns you an additional 50 points. So, the first ring is worth 50 points, the second one is worth 100 points (150 total), the third is 150 (total of 250), and so forth. You can really rack up the points with these rings alone. In addition, there are jumps (and possibly the odd wave here and there) you can use to do some impressive stunts. Sometimes, stunts can earn you upwards of 1000 points. So, big stunts can really make a difference in your high score. Just remember that you don’t have to use a jump to earn stunt points.

One incredible element in this game was how the water is portrayed. Some areas have extremely choppy waves while in other places, the water is almost glass. This was impressive for the time because before this console, the best you could hope for was basic 3D objects on systems not necessarily designed to be powerful enough for 3D art. The only game that comes close on this console in this area was Wetrix. Even though that game was released 2 years later, this game certainly gives that game a run for its money in terms of how water is portrayed. The only caveat here is that the waves were scripted. So, if you remember where that big wave hit you, you’ll easily be able to adjust your racing style accordingly because the waves never really change. Still, that’s a nitpick considering when this game was released.

I thought the buoy system was initially a bit annoying, but I grew to like it because it added so much to the game in general. There’s that added level of challenge thanks to them. As you get up there in the difficulties, these will be increasingly challenging.

The courses were also well done in this game in general. You have an easy first race tat just circles around a simple sand bar. Meanwhile, in later races, you can dive under obstacles, navigate over islands, avoid wooden markers, get slowed down by grassy areas, dodge mines, jump over boats, and a whole lot more. There were alternate routes that can open up depending on the difficulty. There were even different weather patterns that changes the dynamics of the race on top of it all.

Besides the scripted waves, I honestly can’t think of one way to really criticize this game. This game delivers plenty of enjoyment as you see hours melt away playing this game. It is also a game that can easily be replayed over and over again.

This game is a fantastic example of how a launch title should be. It shows the console is entering the market swinging. Generally speaking, this is a very solid game and a real go-to game for a nicely unique racing experience.

Graphically speaking, this game impresses on so many levels. There are great sunsets, cool night settings, and excellent day races. Even though there are 2D sprites here, it’s hard to notice most of them. The art was very well realized in this game. It’s hard to imagine that true 3D games were a very rare novelty just two years earlier as far as console game were concerned. The dynamics of the water, the surroundings, vibrant colors, and so much more really made this game shine.

The audio was also very nicely done. The sounds of the other racers as you crash into them, the dynamic sounds of the water, the energetic announcers, and the other ambient sounds really worked well in this game. The music also added a great level of flavor to the different courses. While not completely amazing, the music was quite well done in its own right.

Overall, this was an excellent game to play. There were plenty of dynamic features involved as you play through different modes – especially championship mode. The dynamics of the water, while scripted, was a very strong feature of this game. The graphics were very nicely done and the audio was also very good. This is definitely a racing game I would have no problem playing over and over again. A great game that I would definitely recommend.

Furthest point in game: Unlocked everything and beat reverse mode in championship mode.

General gameplay: 22/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 86%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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