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Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast)
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Players: 1-2
Developer: Eurocom
Publisher: Midway Games

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

When I first heard about Hydro Thunder coming to the Dreamcast, I was far from excited. I'd never played it in the arcade and I'd only even seen the machine in person once. I'm not a big racing game fan, but after hearing a lot of people rave about the arcade version and how similar (and good) the home version is, I decided to take a look. I am very glad I did!

Hydro Thunder is a speedboat racing game with the arcade intensity level turned up to 11. If you've ever played San Francisco Rush from Atari/Midway, just think of Hydro Thunder as the same type of game, only with boats instead of cars. There are wickedly sharp turns, nausea-inducing jumps and secret pathways galore. Your boat is also equipped with a few power-ups as well; including a Boost, which increases your speed; Boost Jump, which allows you to jump out of the water without a ramp; and Mighty Hull, which makes you invincible to collisions.

As much as I'd like to, I can't compare the game to the arcade version. Like I said, I've never played the arcade version. There are few arcades in my neck of the woods, so I rarely get to play ANY arcade games anymore. Still, I can say that Hydro Thunder is an incredibly addicting game. It possesses that magical charm that has you playing "just one more time" for hours on end.

Perseverance pays off in Hydro Thunder because as you finish with better placements, you'll unlock more tracks and boats to use. The game begins with three tracks in "Easy" mode. Finish in the top three on each of the Easy tracks and more tracks will open. Finish in the top two on the Medium tracks and more tracks will appear. It's quite an effective way to keep the interest level high.

The graphics are beautiful to look at. That is, when you can take the time to really look at them. Everything moves so fast, it's very difficult to see that there are many nifty details in each level. It's quite possible that you'll be noticing new stuff for a long time. The frame-rate remains rock steady throughout the entire race, which means the action is silky smooth. The rippling water effects are some of the best I've seen in any game.

The intensity level of the game, along with the fact that each level (except the circuit tracks) has more than one secret pathway or shortcut, keeps your attention focused on the action. I spent a lot of time trying to shave precious seconds off my finishing times to make it to the next difficulty level. You'll have to race a few "exploratory" races to look for the secrets, some of which are integral to placing in the top positions. It's a rewarding and exciting process. Finding the secrets is fun, but using them to your advantage is even better.

The control is tight and responsive. Playing a racing game with the Dreamcast pad's analog triggers is pure simplicity. The right trigger accelerates and the left trigger brakes. Since the triggers respond to how much pressure is applied, it makes cornering much easier than playing with digital (on or off) braking and accelerating as found on other console racing games.

Although each of the game's boats varies in terms of handling, acceleration and reactions to hits from other boats, the control is always on-target. None of the boats seemed excessively sloppy or hard-to-control, but yet each retained an identity of its own. Hydro Thunder definitely gets high marks for ease of control.

If there's anything to complain about, it might be that there are no extra modes or added options. The game plays as a straightforward racer that challenges you to unlock tracks and boats as you go. That's about it. Of course, you can race against another player, but there are no practice modes, mission modes or any added bonuses. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had in the racing action that is included, so I can't complain too much.

I guess it's safe to say that I am really impressed with Hydro Thunder. It's a racing game that integrates action, arcade-like physics, great control and a premise that's just over-the-top enough to be believable without being ridiculous. It hooked me completely, even though I normally do not go for the racing genre at all. That might be the ultimate compliment. It might not be for everyone, but if you like addicting arcade action, Hydro Thunder is definitely worth a look.

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