When Wave Race Blue Storm was riding the waves of critical acclaim in early May, Bits Studios' handheld Jet Riders project was the farthest thing from our minds. Who would have imagined that barely two months later that situation could be reversed?
Crestfallen? Not a bit of it!
Jet Riders is a perky little handheld jet ski racing game, with just as much emphasis on technique, stunts and lap times as making it round the tracks in one piece. The main focus of the game is the Jet Masters mode, which gives you the choice of three characters - the sexy pink lycra-clad Kayla Devlin, the muscular Elvis Montana and the shadowy Brad Danziger - and splits the world map into three main locations.
The player starts off in "Bondi Breeze" on the southern coast of Australia, with a close-up map of the region revealing just one flagged Training area. After picking a jet ski from those on offer (six will be available to unlock in total), the player has to complete three challenges, which introduce the throttle, moving left and right without turning by using the shoulder buttons, and combining this with steering and simple barrel roll tricks.
Steering is handled by the directional pad and the A button is your accelerator, but the shoulder buttons control several vital functions. Apart from leaning (or strafing) left and right, players can jump off ramps and perform the aforementioned barrel rolls using one or other of the shoulder buttons, and your jet ski accrues boost as it passes red and blue buoys on the correct side, which can be tapped by holding both shoulder buttons together to increase your speed and often propel you to the front of the pack. Going too fast though can mean losing vital seconds getting your craft into shape as you hit a corner.
That was liquid skill!
Each successfully completed challenge rewards the player with a star, and the more stars you win, the more areas become available, with flags waving on the main map screen to highlight new challenges. Stunt areas test your ability to roll and rotate your craft in mid-air (without wiping out and losing vital seconds, of course), and also introduce you to the peculiar grinding technique, which sees riders leaping off a ramp onto what looks like a giant log and holding A to grind like the Birdman Tony Hawk
Time trial challenges, race circuits and stunt challenges pop up as you gain more stars, and eventually the player unlocks the next section of the game, which heralds yet more challenges in new environments. There are said to be 21 tracks included in the full game, and no doubt a greater variety of tricks than those we uncovered with our preview code. Finally, Bits have included a four-player linkup mode which can be played using one cart - probably the easiest way to our hearts.
Graphically, Jet Riders resembles the speedboat levels of classic 16-bit overhead racer Micro Machines 2, but there's a generous amount of detail hidden beneath the surface. Boats rotate in mid-air and turn smoothly, and the scrolling is extremely nice as well. The overhead view is about the right distance from the craft to let you see the track ahead, while still letting you take in the picture of bubbling and frothing water, the animated shoreline with water lapping at sandy beaches, and buoys bobbing up and down as you speed past them. In fact, you can practically submerge them as you turn at speed and kick up enormous waves.
Bits Studios seems to have delivered a pretty decent jet ski game under the most absurd of constraints, with detailed visuals, plenty to do and a multiplayer mode to boot, all of which bodes well for Jet Riders' eventual release. The game is due out in time for the summer, and we're informed that a publisher will be announced shortly. But in the meantime, it's a game of wake-and-sea. Sorry, wait-and-see. Water on the brain and all that. [You're fired - Ed]