Eleven years ago the gaming landscape was different. Dreamcast was all the rage and arcade ports, usually didn't offer much more than a few added options in the menu on top of the coin operated experience. Hydro Thunder hit the arcades in 1999 and Midway ported it to Dreamcast soon after, and to me it felt as if I was playing Dreamcast again when I got into Hydro Thunder Hurricane for Xbox Live Arcade. It may be simple fun, but it's still fun.
In all honesty, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, offers as much if not more in terms of content than the games it owes it heritage too. There are 8 courses that offers lots of shortcuts, and hidden extras. These can be raced in three boat classes and on top of that there is Ring Master and Gauntlet modes, that sees you racing through hoops and avoiding exploding barrels. Then there is Championship mode that combines different events into championships. And then both split screen and online multiplayer on top of that. Plenty to keep you occupied.
The gameplay is simplistic and fun as you try and pick up power ups, and open up shortcuts to boost your way through as much of the course as possible. Boost also allows you to make highly unrealistic jumps with your boat, which comes in handy in the gauntlet mode where you have to race past exploding barrels. There is a certain feeling that comes with an overly excited voice proclaiming "Boost has been activated" or "This is crazy! This is crazy! This is crazy!". The easiest way to describe the feeling of racing on water is that it is moving concrete. It's not soft and if you let it have its way with you, it will bounce you in the wrong direction. After a couple of races you will learn to predict and make use of the waves in order to gain an advantage.
Personally I enjoyed the racing a lot, shaving seconds of your times and comparing them to your friends never gets old, but I didn't have as much fun with Gauntlet and Ring Master. The latter requires real skill when you get into the harder settings as the hoops you need to go through get smaller, and the penalty for missing them gets harsher. To be a master of Ring Master you really need to know your way around the courses and have full control over your boat. Gauntlet feels more like an unnecessary mode as it is basically a time trial, with exploding barrels just outside the race line that you need to avoid. Perhaps Vector Unit will add another game mode at a later date with downloadable content (it's already present in the menu).
When you first start off playing Hydro Thunder Hurricane only one course is unlock, and by finishing on the podium in any competition you will gain credits that unlock more races, boats, gauntlet runs, and ring master courses. You also get credits for playing the multiplayer and even if I feel it takes a little bit too long to unlock all of the courses, there is a nice sense of progression, and since you always earn credits when finishing in the top three you will eventually unlock everything even if you are a bit crap at the harder Ring Master like I am.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane sports a nice high resolution retro look, and the design is taken straight out of the 90's. Racing through the sewers of Paris with police boats shouting at you in French, or having giant crocodiles jump in front of you on Monster Island, is part of the old school arcade experience Vector Unit went for with Hydro Thunder Hurricane and for that I applaud them.
But while Hydro Thunder Hurricane offers all of this, it's still not a classic. I find it hard to believe that I would be playing this game ten years from now as I am with some of the Dreamcast classic I keep on the top shelf in my book case. But if you want an over-the-top arcade style racer that offers great value for your buck, then Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a good choice. Just don't expect something you haven't seen or heard before.
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