Version tested: Xbox 360
If Limbo, last week's inaugural Summer of Arcade release, aspired to the art house aesthete's choice - Braid through a glass, darkly - Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a hyperactive celebration of balls-out, dumbass, American videogame-ness. 25-foot racing boats, whose engines roar in Texan accents, roll and bounce through white water rapids. They gobble down speed boost capsules like froth-mouthed junkies under a maelstrom of distorted keyboards and six-foot snare drum clacks.
Delicacy and finesse be damned, screams developer Vector Unit into the wind and spray: videogames are about domination and high-speed spectacle; they're about shaving a few seconds from the times of every last name on your Enemies List; about finding the odd secret bonus and, every three laps or so, making your jaw hang slack as a giant f**king sea serpent explodes out of the water and sends your boat ricocheting off into a rock face.
Videogames should exaggerate physics in search of perfecting the chemistry of play, the game argues. Spin out on a corner and you need only stab the back button for a rolling reset: combo the endorphins without pause for thought. If Limbo's deadly waters represented a cloying quicksand to oblivion, Hydro's undulating waves are ramps to the stars.
As such, ponderousness is, quite literally, for losers. Hydro. Thunder. Hurricane. A three-hit combo of elemental nouns, each threatening to whack you from your sofa into a squall of testosterone.
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And why not? Microsoft's decision to juxtapose Limbo with an uncomplicated speedboat racer in their scheduling demonstrates not only the publisher's understanding that it takes all types to make a medium, but also exemplifies the full range of approaches their service has the capacity to house. Moreover, while Hydro Thunder Hurricane's brash brand of interactivity has a different timbre, underneath the theme and colouring, the two titles sit together quite comfortably.
Both games demand trail and error, the former in feeling out its immovable solutions, the latter in feeling out the optimum routes to facilitate the fastest possible lap times. Both games demand lightning quick reactions for success. Both games offer neat twists on age-old tropes.
That said, there's no denying Hydro Thunder Hurricane's wholly orthodox framework. A sequel to the Dreamcast launch title with which it shares two thirds of a name, the intervening years have done little to shift the series' structural approach to a racing game.
There are four different types of event in which to compete, each accessed from the main menu screen. Races pit you against 15 competitors in a watery dash to the finishing line. You're free to bump into your rivals, but your efforts are best spent taking racing lines to pick up the next speed boost capsule or hunting out the shortcuts that thread through each of the game's eight tracks.
Ring Master, the second event type, goes some way to helping you discover these shortcuts, each event shepherding you through a course by picking out a route using giant rings through which your boat must pass. Miss a ring and you incur a time penalty, with the size of the rings diminishing as you rise through the boat classes, thereby scaling the difficulty. Gauntlet has you playing through each stage against the clock, the only difference being that the waterways are booby-trapped with exploding barrels that force a checkpoint restart if struck.
Finally, a set of Championships bundle together different events plucked from the other three types into structured competitions. You earn credits for placing in the top three positions of any race, the money going towards auto-unlocking new events and boats across the entire game. While the game gives the illusion of non-linearity in its approach, in reality the staggered credit thresholds required to unlock each new event enable the developer to pick out a very specific line for players through the experience.
The racing itself is breakneck and enjoyable, drawing inspiration in terms of feel and style from Nintendo's Wave Race series. Set-piece explosions in the water cause huge waves to interrupt the flow of a race in interesting, dynamic ways, forcing you to constantly respond to the shifting 'ground' upon which you race, as well as what your rivals are doing at any one point.
The placement of nitro canisters is arranged in such a way to encourage you to find routes through a course that allow near-continuous speed-boosting, and the Boost Jump button, that catapults you into the air at a cost of some of your boost gauge, allows for more dynamic course design than would otherwise have been possible. Boat classes emphasize either speed or handling, and are different enough from one another to encourage thought when matching a vessel to a level.
Level types are pulled from videogame cliché: Monster Island a dash through a cat's cradle of Amazonian tributaries and ruins, while Paris Sewers and Area 51 provide obvious, if effective, counterpoints later in the experience. The bold, colourful aesthetic lacks Wave Race's warmth and, despite the high-contrast sheen, the game lacks real personality and character.
Despite this, Hydro Thunder Hurricane hits the keynotes required of any modern arcade racer, with a re-emphasis on secrets and shortcuts that the genre has perhaps lost in recent times. The two multiplayer modes - a straight race between eight players online, and Rubber Ducky, in which two teams try to nose their rubber duck past a threshold before their opponents - provide a good balance of competition and playfulness.
Indeed, this is a good summary of the wider experience, which asks players to experiment with the tools pressed into their hands, while keeping reminders of your friend's times and scores on screen at all times to focus the mind toward rivalry. The absence of personality and flourish perhaps comes from a general lack of nuance or innovation. But therein lies a reminder that the dumb arcade racer is a cornerstone of the videogame medium. While there's scant cultural prestige to be found in that fact, neither should there be any shame.
7 / 10
Hydro Thunder Hurricane launches on Xbox Live Arcade this Wednesday, 28th July, for 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20 / €14.40).