WaveRace 64 was an excellent game, which had water effects like no other game before. It was impressive as an early N64 game, and was fun to go back and replay every once in a while. With a new console comes a sequel, and Nintendo's American development house NST has done a very good job of improving on the original.
The water is AMAZING. It looks very different on each level, but is always impressive, with a near-perfect mix of transparency, texture, and reflection (And it reflects EVERYTHING in real-time). Complementing the surface water are the weather effects. There are five different types of weather, from sunny to light rain to stormy. The weather affects the water dramatically. Raindrops splash on the water's surface, and the added clouds and rain cut down on the water's reflectivity and transparency. Also, in a nice effect, the water from the rain or your jetski's spray splash on the 'camera', so you see water 'splash' on your TV. This can actually affect visibility, so in stormy conditions with lots of rain, your visibility is reduced, just as you would expect it to be in a storm. The overall look of the water/weather system is just incredibly impressive.
The character models are pretty nice, and animation is good. The framerate is SOLID. The developers have said it's locked at 30 frames per second, and I saw no slowdown whatsoever, even in multiplayer mode (although some background detail was cut out). The graphics aren't perfect, however. While pushing all the detail in the foreground, they must have decided the background wasn't as important. The buildings and some landscapes are relatively simple, and some objects on shore look like cardboard cutouts. However, you only really notice this in race replay mode, and it doesn't affect gameplay at all.
One of the worst things about WR64 was the incredibly annoying announcer. In Blue Storm, the original announcer is gone, however, now each character has their own 'crew chief' which gives about the same vocal comments as the announcer. Some of them are a bit better, some are even more dorky and annoying. FORTUNATELY, NST had the incredible wisdom of giving you the option of turning them down or totally off. THANK YOU, NST!!! So this is not a negative feature anymore. In fact, you can change the sound settings for the voice, sound effects, and music all independently, so you can choose what you want to hear. I have voice at 50% (barely noticeable), engine sounds at 75%, and the music at 100%. I actually like the music. It's a bit different, an interesting mix of rock and electronic styles, with additional instruments like a harmonica, and what sounds like bagpipes. Instruments sound more synth-y than realistic. Nothing you'll be humming along with, but the music seems to fit the game most of the time. Each level has a few different songs, depending on weather, and there is a sound test mode in the options. The engine and menu sound effects are also very nice.
If you've played WR64, then you'll probably pick up the basic controls without much problem. However, the control seems a bit different, and a bit more difficult at first. Try all the riders until you find one you like, and run many practice runs to perfect your handling. An interesting element of the control scheme is the use of L + R to lean. This was in the N64 version, but the GameCube's analog triggers makes this a much more useful feature and in my opinion, improves control dramatically. Otherwise, A for accleration, B or Y to lean forward for a slight speed increase, and X or Z for turbo. I found Y + X more convenient than Z + B, but you have the option of either buttons at all times. C-stick is used for camera control.
Standard racing game options, much like the N64 version. Championship mode is the usual you-against-them race, where you must accumulate points to move on to the next round. There are three difficulty levels, normal, hard, and expert, plus an exhibition race through Dolphin Park. On each level the course path and buoy positions are totally different, so this gives more variety to the 7 main racing environments in this mode. As you go through Championship mode, you unlock courses and weather conditions. Normal and Hard modes are pretty easy for an experienced gamer, but expert mode suddenly turns this into a very challenging game. The other racers are much more competitive (read: they try to knock you off course).
Time Attack mode is like any other time trial mode. You can race against your best time on any course and weather conditions you have played/unlocked.
Stunt mode is like the original game. You try to accumulate points by doing stunts and going through rings. There are new stunts, but overall the stunt mode isn't very deep. There isn't any type of combo system, and you can actually get more points by doing constant backflips off every jump, going through all the rings and finishing early than you can doing some of the tricks that are more difficult to pull off. Still pretty fun, but don't wear your thumb out.
Multiplayer is for up to 4 players. I have only played with 2. The learning curve of the control scheme may make it hard to find a worthy opponent if you are an experienced player.
Free Roam mode lets you go around any environment with no time limits, buoys or opponents. It's kind of interesting to explore for a while, and this can be a good way to practice riding.
Tutorial mode is a pretty good tutorial of all the controls, from basic turning to advanced stunts. The control method is explained, then you can try to duplicate it.
My only complaint with the original WaveRace is that I would have liked more courses. There aren't many environments in Blue Storm either, however, each environment has a lot more variety. The normal, hard, and expert courses are very different on each level, and all the weather conditions make each race somewhat unique. Two courses return from the original game, Dolphin Park and Southern Island, but the graphical improvements and new shortcuts keep them somewhat fresh. The original WaveRace was a game I kept coming back to every once in a while for a quick race or two, and I think Blue Storm will have the same quality.
E for Everyone. A very family-friendly game.
I have been quite impressed by this game. It takes everything the original had and improves on it. A very worthy sequel and a nicely polished game overall.
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