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Submitted by Chris Leyton on July 27 2010 - 11:43

Cool down and take a dip into the water with Summer of Arcade’s second title...

Xbox’s Live Summer of Arcade got off to a sizzling start with last week’s Limbo, a stark portrayal of the puzzle-platformer genre that will be a hard act to follow for the remainder of this year’s event.  But rather than try to compete on an equally artistic footing, Microsoft’s serving up something a little different for the second week’s release.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane, a HD update/sequel of sorts to Midway’s reasonably popular 1999 Dreamcast/N64 arcade hit Hydro Thunder, promises plenty of water based extreme action as you take to tracks filled with fierce Norse gods and marauding dinosaurs.  Yup, probably about as far removed from Limbo as you could probably get.

From the menu screen onwards Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a trip down memory lane.  10 years ago extreme arcade racers like this (certainly more water based ones) were in abundance, but it seems XBLA is the only route for such experiences nowadays.  Somehow it’s difficult to imagine publishers giving the nod to such projects amid today’s image conscious conditions.  But can something that just relies on good old fashioned fun succeed on XBLA?

Having secured the license during the midst of Midway’s demise, Microsoft has teamed up with Vector Unit.  Although it’s the studio’s first title, the team does have some experience with waves and speed boats having developed Blood Wake as a launch title for the original Xbox - remember that?  We didn’t think so!

It’s certainly an XBLA title that packs a lot of content.  Whereas some may have baulked at the 3-4 hours on offer in Limbo, Hydro Thunder Hurricane offers a more comprehensive package with multiple events across Race, Ring Master, Gauntlet, and multi-event Grand Prix categories, in addition to a range of multiplayer modes.  If you’re looking for an XBLA title that packs the weight of a traditional game release, then Hydro Thunder Hurricane certainly ticks the box.

Following the mandate of the original quite closely, Hydro Thunder Hurricane pits players in a range of outlandish speed boasts competing in exaggerated locations that bear more in common with a collection of water theme park rides.  Thor emerges from the whites of the water on one level to bring destruction with his hefty hammer, while another occasion finds a dinosaur rising above the waves and forming a whirlpool to avoid.  It’s this element that gave the original Hydro Thunder a purpose, and to some extent also gives a degree of reason to the HD sequel, however we’d say Vector Unit hasn’t really taken the idea and run with it.

The sensation of speed is never quite fast enough (even when you’re boosting) and the extreme nature of the tracks just doesn’t quite reach the scale that this generation should.  Because of the fact it’s on water rather than tarmac there’s a satisfying sense of uncertainty, which Vector Unit have put the power of the Xbox 360 to good use.  There’s a considerable degree of complexity to the water system, however the small team at Vector Unit has done a good job of balancing this with an undemanding control scheme that puts the emphasis on fun rather than worrying about capsizing.

The inclusion of alternative routes is a welcome but expected feature, adding a reward to those that can master the Boost Jump, but unfortunately Vector Unit have seen fit to tinker with some of the techniques much to the detriment of the game.  Seemingly at the demands of appealing to a wider audience, Vector Unit has removed and simplified techniques from the original.  A Boost Jump, which required a sharp technique on the boost and brake in the original, has been simplified to a mere button press.  Equally the Mighty Hull technique, an effect that temporarily granted you the ability to fling any opponents out of the water that got in your way, has been removed completely and replaced with the concept of riding in the wake of an opponent to gain a temporary boost of speed.

Such simplification is at the detriment to the overall game.  Classic arcade racers provide depth layered under the simple veneer, something that the original Hydro Thunder and games like Crazy Taxi achieved with ease.  As a result, there’s little to feel as though you’ve completely mastered with Hydro Thunder Hurricane.  We can understand the change, but from a core gamer’s perspective it does round off the edge a little too much and comes away fairly undistinguished a result.

Through its many challenges Hyrdo Thunder Hurricane doesn’t exactly keep your attention, but it’s the type of game that you’ll happily tuck away in your collection and probably keep coming back for more.  Much of the fun lies with the multiplayer, which thankfully hasn’t been sacrificed.  It does the type of things you’d expect from online modes in an Xbox Live title, so once you’ve finished an event it will show your score/time compared to your friends.  It’s a small touch, but can create that urge just to try one more attempt to shave that second or two - but it’s certainly no Trials in comparison.

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  • Graphics: 71%
  • Sound: 63%
  • Gameplay: 71%
  • Originality: 70%
  • Longevity: 78%
Overall Score: 7/10
Vector Unit has certainly succeeded in its mandate of “big games in small packages” with Hydro Thunder Hurricane, and for that alone it’s hard not to recommend. Despite its shortcomings Hydro Thunder Hurricane is ultimately a fun game to play and a worthy XBLA purchase.

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