Wave Race 64
Oo, how do we get that incredible water effect across to our readers?That was the question in the N64 office as we thought of ideas for this review. Short of cover-mounting a small sachet of brine, with instructions to spray its salty wetness across the brow while sitting on a friend's revving motorbike reading the issue, we drew a blank.
So thank heavens, then, for last month's N64 video. Take another peak at Wave Race 64, if you can, and let it put you in the mood for what follows. This is not just a game on water, but a game about water...
In its arrangement of courses and challenges, Wave Race is oddly similar to the SNES buggy bash Stunt Race FX with a slight bias toward the solo player...
The solo tourny mode asks you to play as one of the four personalised racers, each boasting their own peculiar qualities and advantages. This in itself can decide whether you'll be playing catch-up or defending the lead as a general strategy (see our profile tips on getting the most from each rider). Your overall standing is decided on a points qualifier basis, and you'll need to win pretty much every race on harder levels to even get a sniff at the final course. As usual in these games, it's never really explained why your competitors aren't disqualified for similar failure.
Championship is divided into three main leagues of difficulty, using the same courses each time but with increasingly complex buoy arrangements and obstacles. Win the Cup on Expert level and -- aha! -- you'll discover a fourth super-hard Reverse league in which you must race all the courses backwards. It's a testament to the challenge of the ever-changing waters that tackling them in reverse feels completely different.
Curiously more addictive than you'd expect, this mode demands course-wise tactics and cleverness as well as old-fashioned honed reflexes to shave small clippings of splinters of seconds from the current leader. Like Mario Kart, it works best when you and a friend are constantly leapfrogging in the fastest time record tables, goading each other to exceptional levels of performance.
In our course guide you'll find some of the N64 office's best times (some good, others not so) for a special reason. First, we want to give you an idea of what you should aim for in your first few weeks of playing the game: you'll find plenty of advice on how we got them in our hints and tips. Second, we want your own times so that we've got somebody else to measure against. Let us know the difficulty and any tricks or custom options you used, too, so that we can share your tidbits with other readers.
Seven island courses (including one training level) are available at first By completing the leagues on Normal and Hard difficulty settings, you'll open up the spangly Twilight City and the vicious Glacier Coast for all other modes.
Typically, Nintendo presents this uneventful oval layout to get you accustomed to fast straights and tight turns. We reckon there's another second to lose from our best time, with perfect cornering. And yes, that was the thunk-fzzt of N64 Magazine's cybernetic exo-gauntlet being tossed earthwards in your direction.
Incredibly, the split screen game runs at the same speed as Championship mode, despite having to represent two oceans at once. You can even adjust your camera view, as normal. The compromise is that you lose certain details (gulls and mist, for instance) and have to peer at much less of the course through a clutter of bars and read-outs. Other than that, it's absolutely tremendous. There's nothing like scraping hulls with a chum to really put a keen edge on your determination to win.
Once you've established a clear lead over your rival, N64 magazine's yah-boo-sucks protocol demands that you slow up and pull a stunt - riding in a handstand, perhaps, or a double backflip -- to distract them from their own half of the screen with your antics. It gives them a sporting chance to catch up, you see, or else fall even further behind in their eagerness to verbally compare you with certain unsavoury items and substances.
Proving that their control system is the very finest, Nintendo's designers have even incorporated a vast repertoire of ski stunts accessed with particular 'special moves'. With a twirl of the stick your rider will sit on the hood and ride backwards, or perform a handstand on the dashboard. Leap from a ramp and another twiddle can send the whole ski into a backwards flip, perhaps a sub dive under the surface. Each course has a stunt mode variant in which you'll be judged on your varied and athletic performance for a final points score. Stunt rings replace the buoys as course markers, with a points accumulator awarded for each ring you pass through.
Although it's the weakest section of the game, perhaps because there are rather too many courses to which you could devote your efforts indefinitely, it certainly maintains the Wave Race competitiveness. Our current score for Dolphin Park is 15737, and getting better all the time: try pulling a few extra tricks on the later waves if you want to beat us.
We're not sure about the Lucozade ocean, but the lens flare from its lazy dusk sky makes up for it in photogenic opportunities. This is where you'll learn the importance of gauging early turns to negotiate tight 90° corners.
The calm, fast surface of an inland lake provides an opportunity to test your slalom skills. Visibility improves with each circuit, but for a buoy-scrapingly good Time Trial, you'll need to rely on course knowledge to counteract the morning mist.
Storm-laden skies herald an unrelenting riptide in Wave Race's grimmest course. The constant choppiness can be exploited, however: those challenging features and pray-to-God shortcuts make it ideal for Time Trial rivalry on the record tables.
No matter how hard we try on the ramps, we just can't smash into the helicopter that dogs your progress Goodfellas fashion. This industrial course is fast and furious with an emphasis on obstacles and hard terrain cornering rather than wavery trickery.
A cool, dark evening rampfest with some very narrow ski-jostling bottlenecks to please the assembled crowds. More fast and attractively reflective water, but with deceptive areas of intense backwash (especially on Reverse League) that can lead you to overshoot into its wire fences.
We humbly acknowledge Nintendo's ability to sneak a slippy-slidey ice-world into every game they make, and this example contains enough unforgiving pitfalls to have you making up swearwords after exhausting your usual list. You cruise in first or you crawl in last, there's no middle way to finish.
This surfer's paradise, home to the impressive killer whale, spawns some truly huge breakers that ever-so-slightly spoil the naturalistic water effect. Its odd feature is that the coastline expands as the tide retreats, making lap times erratic. For a truly excellent shore-hugging record you need to tailor your planned route and tactics to each individual lap.
You get the impression that nobody at Nintendo would be happy designing a racer with an ordinary sports car and a simple stretch of tarmac. They'd have put ramps in Ridge Racer, planted bombs on the Daytona track;even hidden a playable tractor in Sega Rally. And that, possibly, is why we like the rascally scamps.
Early screenshots of Wave Race 64 even contained bizarre futuristic hovercraft that led many to christen it F-Zero X. A major rethink obviously occurred at some point, and although the appearance of these more mundane jet skis did seem to be tapping the watersports fad seen in last year's coin-ops, it's safe to say that you have never encountered anything like this in an arcade.
And it's all down to those waves. They break, they rise, they ebb and flow, crashing across your footboard or swelling underneath to nudge your bobbing jetski. Okay, so you can guess at a mountain of polygons shifting about in there somewhere. You know that it's all smoothed-over and curved-out with translucent pixel-free textures. You may even recognise that remarkable liquid effect used in Super Mario 64's silvery-black pools and ripples of shimmering light breaking across the chaotic surface. After that, you resort to checking the underside of your television for damp spots.
More than this, it's a working model of the ocean surface. On calm waters you can skim at high speed, trailing a mild spray. Stormy riptides are a constant frantic wrestle to ride the peaks and stay afloat. Although certain areas of the 'track' have repeating wave patterns, racing on a surface in perpetual flux provides a completely new racing experience that constantly tests and re-tests the extent of your vehicle control.
Thanks to the power of N64, and the notion that corners can be represented by buoys as well as hard terrain, you can actually see a fair way into the distance, too, and thus plan a course of action that includes rival racers while sticking as close as possible to that perfect 'line'. You'd be surprised how many racing titles slip up on this simple hurdle, expecting you to memorise cornering rather than letting you interact with what you see.
The analogue stick once again provides a sensitive interface, letting you choose whether to turn sharply or curve gently as well as controlling your ski's nose angle when attacking the chops. What makes Wave Race so involving is that your actions are perfectly represented on screen by the twisting, leaping ski and its subtly animated rider, giving you precisely the feedback you need to respond. Chugging through a fierce tide, you're actually able to perceive the turbulent effect on your speed and steering and to compensate accordingly with a gentle shift of the thumb. It's probably why so many gamers have described Wave Race as a 'realistic' jetski racer, even though they've never actually been placed in charge of the genuine 6,000 article.
Character motion is also naturalistic: the daring way the riders lean into corners, pull on the bars or slip from the footboard with a gut-catching "Oof!" brings them alive to such an extent that you'll wince when you smash their frail little bodies into harbour walls, and smile when you ram your rival side-on. Hard to imagine you'd feel this involved with a hovercraft, no?
It's a peculiar Nintendo trait that, having come up with a fairly decent game engine, they manage to add yet another design twist or ability that truly makes it their own. In addition to negotiating a basic island circuit, there are left-hand markers (red buoys) and right-hand markers (yellow buoys) that define a subsidiary course. Successfully pass the correct side of a buoy and an arrow is illuminated on your jetski's Power Bar, enhancing your engine performance until "Maximum Power!'' puts you in charge of a noticeably superior machine. Miss a buoy, however, and you lose the whole bar at once. Too many misses can disqualify you from the race, but on occasion you'll spot shortcuts where skipping a single marker can actually save time or earn an early finish. Just when you think you've got to grips with the moment-to-moment concentration of tackling the waves, the game presents more tactical decisions about whether to spend time taking a wide corner or dash straight on to catch the leader before it's too late. It is, without a doubt, one of the deepest racing games we've encountered.
In one respect, Wave Race parallels the ground-breaking brilliance of Super Mario 64 in a way that Mario Kart 64 doesn't. Unless you've actually seen it and played it for yourself, you won't truly comprehend a 3D gaming experience that's only possible with dedicated 64-bit hardware. Consider your gamefreak status temporarily suspended until you own a copy of this groundbreaking title.
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Thoroughly realistic water effects and a scintillating two-player speedway make this easily as enjoyable as Mario Kart 64.
Imagine a game where you start racing into a wall of mist, flitting across the water as a flock of ducks fly overhead, the beat of their wings slightly muffled by the fog. As you race on, the fog slowly bums away so you can see reflections rippling in the calm water.
Other riders hustle around you, and at a vital moment youYe pushed off course and into a wooden post Your rider is hurled backwards, your jetski shoots vertically upwards, spinning like a top. A moment later, your rider reappears, shakes her head and pulls herself back on-board. The engine's pitch changes as a fine spray rises about the jetski's hull, while your rider bobs and dips according to every movement, every wave.
Describing WaveRace 64 is like writing a game novella - one with all those arty, realistic touches which writers love to do but you just know won't be In the game. Things like schools of fish darting under the water. Like sunlight flaring across your visor and blanking your view. Things which only Nintendo would dream of doing, and only the N64 could handle.
The N64's first racing game is the most innovative in years and arguably the finest to date. A videogame landmark, it seamlessly combines astonishing graphical originality with gameplay. The game begins with a high, angled camera pan over speeding jetskis. The fluid realism of the ocean Is stunning, an undulating cascade of transparency and reflection effects well beyond anything yet seen In the arcades. The jetskis are brightly texture-mapped, as are their riders which, although a little blocky, are superbly animated - heightening the sense of speed and drama.
Background graphics begin with a small island, but subsequent levels prove the N64's ability to handle far more complex scenes. A neon-lit city at night, a supertanker and some icebergs provide interesting later challenges. Nevertheless, it's the water which is the main star, effortlessly varying between a calm, gentle swell to huge, stormy waves that make steering a real struggle.
On most race-games, winning is principally a case of braking as late as possible into a corner, and stomping on the accelerator a few milli-seconds later. Apart from overtaking, the racing line is identical from lap to lap. With Wave Race 64, the 'track' is never the same and you're constantly adjusting your line to the waves. This is obviously exaggerated with stormy conditions, but even calm conditions require close attention - especially when a gentle swell can usefully lift your jetbike over a line of mines!
The variability of the sea is cleverly combined with how buoys are used to outline the course. Basically, each buoy you pass correctly gives you a speed-up (to a maximum of five). Go around a buoy on the wrong side, however and you lose all power-ups, plus one of five 'Lives'. This deepens the tactical element since it opens up the possibility of short-cuts, particularly on the final approach to the finishing line. It also provides a fair penalty system for when stormy weather pushes inexperienced players off track.
Basic controls are surprisingly simple: 'A' provides power, and the analogue stick controls both direction and your biker's stance. Pushing the down-right diagonal has your biker crouching right, dramatically tightening the turning circle). There's no brake and it's worth knowing that steering is directly related to power - ease off the accelerator and your jetski turns like a supertanker! 'R' and 'B' can 'dampen waves' and 'slide on water' respectively, but these are subtle effects which most people won't need initially. The overall feel is extremely simple and direct, a perfect interface between jetski and wallowing waves. A few laps get you acclimatised... .and addicted.
Champion, simply champion
As you'd expect, there's a choice of four jetski/riders ranging from the nimble Ayumi Steward (the sole female) to Dave Mariner who boasts a high top speed at the price of handling. These jetskis can be further refined via customisable options (handling, engine and grip). The maximum number of jetskis is just four which, although initially disappointing, turns out to be quite sufficient. The Al of the riders is considerable, including some very aggressive moves when overtaking. Realism is further emphasised by varying performance: rather than lapping like robots, they behave differently for each lap and can make mistakes just like human competitors. This means you should never give up, particularly when an extra point or two can be vital later on.
Winning in each of the four Championship Modes isn't hugely difficult, but that's far from the whole story. A split-screen two player mode has almost infinite replay value.Although there's no computer players in this mode you can select any track in any skill level which you've reached in Championship mode. Thafs a grand total of 29 track permutations! Even further lastability is provided by Stunt Mode which is basically a whole new game In its own right.
Three Out Of Three
Overall, Wave Race 64 has turned out to be a dark horse of Grand National-winning quality. The stunning graphics, immaculate playability and entirely original handling make for a game like no other. As much as for Super Mario 64 or Mario Kart 64, Wave Race 64 alone justifies the cost of the N64.
Course for Celebration
Unlike Mario Kart 64, Wave Race provides a strict Championship Mode which holds back two complete courses until players have earned them. There are six courses initially, but If you beat these in Normal Championship Mode an extra track Is added for Hard Championship Mode. Beat those and you get one more track, making a total of eight for the Expert Championship. Place first In this and the Reverse Championship appears. Further lastability is provided by the way course layouts vary depending on the skill level and, for some courses, even vary from lap to lap.
The game awards seven points for a win, four points for second, two for third place and one for fourth. Each track has a minimum points requirement, so if you get a few first places, you need not even finish on a later track to progress. This lessens the chance of getting bogged down on a single track, while retaining a reasonable overall difficulty level.
This course only features in the Championship Mode as a warm-up area -players can follow a dolphin around various obstacles to become accustomed to their jetski's handling. It also offers a guide to all the controls and stunts via scrolling text messages at the bottom of the screen. In Stunt Mode, you can score points here however.
The first proper course couldn't be simpler: an elongated oval stretched around a small island. On the first Normal Championships, even the buoys are simply arranged. For beginners it's a valuable introduction to racing technique, for experts it's a ferocious speed trial where only near-perfection (or luck) will beat Dave Mariner.
Tips: To win, you must take the comers tighter than the computer players dare - cut in tight enough to practically brush the fence posts, but don't forget your exit angle must be in line with the next buoy.
Rougher weather conditions combine superbly moody, orange-drenched lighting to present players with a tougher challenge. There's a fun leap followed by a sharp turn and buoys arranged for slaloming. As difficulty rises, so do the number of buoys and sharpness of the turns.
Tips: Don't wimp out, angle the lump so you practically land on the next buoy for the best possible racing line. On the final turn, Ignore the buoys and go straight forward along the edge of the mine field. You'll run alongside the finishing line and cut out an entire turn!
Although the plan view suggest a simple diamond course, the closing stretch runs straight through several wooden posts. Its takes a steady nerve to slalom through and, of course, as the difficulty Increases so does the number of posts and buoys...
Tips: On Normal setting, getting through the posts is simply a matter of spotting the straight-line path through and sticking to it. Even on harder settings, the trick is more seeing the racing line than any complicated manoeuvres: don't panic!
Dark overcast skies set the scene for the most storm-tossed course of all The opening straight meets a long stone ridge: cautious players go round it, braver souls hope for a wave to lift them over. The next section features scattered garbage, again dividing players into the sensible and foolhardy: On Hard level, a rusty gate lifts to reveal a shortcut through the fortress which is so narrow, with so much floating rubbish, many players might initially prefer the long way round!
Tips: The water will lift you over the stone ridge 75% of the time, so use it to get in front but be more careful in the lead. The garbage is much harder to read and is best avoided, unless you're way behind.
A beautifully detailed helicopter plays homage to Namco's Ridge Racer, hovering over a course which, all by itself, comprehensively trounces the PlayStation's graphics demo for lasting challenge. On Normal Setting, the track is a relatively simple voyage around a supertanker and through a wide corridor running into the port. On Hard, a second, faster but extremely narrow route is offered through the port On Expert, the easy route is removed and the buoys demand incredibly tight turns even on the open sea. Reverse mode is perhaps the ultimate nightmare, giving plenty of opportunity for players to admire the perfectly sampled sound of jetskis clanging into metal walls again and again.
Tips: Bend those knees! The tunnel shortcut is vital for success on any level other than Normal. To get through, you must put your rider into a crouch and anticipate turns before you get to them. Pay attention to the warning arrows (except on Reverse Model).
This graphic tour de force first comes Into play on Hard level. Black water bleeds neon reflections in a stunning, almost surreal landscape which never, ever slows down. In terms of gameplay, all the mines, tunnels and tight comers make this a real test of precision control. The opening ski-jump demands a underwater dive and really gets the hands sweating. All the jumps mean the track plays dramatically different In reverse mode, forcing players to slalom around sections they previously effortlessly leapt over. Although it makes a highly entertaining and demanding change, most people will be glad the majority of courses are less claustrophobic.
Tips: When there's a choice between a flamboyant jump and threading your way through bobbing mines, go for the latter. Do it right, and you'll be able to keep accelerating rather than losing speed on the jump.
This course first appears on Expert level and huge chunks of ice make it by far the most demanding. Bobbing ice blocks provide the simplest obstacles (shattering upon impact), while bigger structures provide leaps and demanding slippery comers. Trickiest of all are semi-submerged ice floes which capsize players who misjudge their contours. Slaloming around objects you can barely see is a thrilling test of any player's mettle!
Tips: On the huge ice sheet,attempting any sort of sharp turn is disastrous. Instead, make your turn before the ice and skid across in a straight line. As before, avoid unnecessary jumps.
Whatever the Championship levels, this course always provides the final race. The first lap is at high tide, letting you cruise over a sunken ship. But on the next lap, the tide is low with the ship provide a crucial jump. Complex and fast, this is a fitting conclusion to any Championship.
Tips: On the first lap, using the ramp for a submerged dive will cut out a long banking turn. Ifs a tricky move but will give you a valuable few seconds advantage.