Jet-ski racing games are very difficult to get right. The physics involved are much more exotic than those driving games are up against because the surface of the track is moving and swelling beneath you, before you even take the wind conditions, weather and your jet-ski's capabilities into account. It takes a lot of time and a lot of skill, and thankfully first-party developer Nintendo Software Technology have both in abundance. After an hour or so with what must have been a completed copy of Blue Storm this weekend at The Nintendo Show, we're pretty confident that NST has another hit on its hands. Visually, the game is everything it ought to be, with swirling waves breaking against rocks and wooden jumps, amazingly detailed variation in the surface of the water and moreover, sumptuously detailed islands, houses, boats, buildings and other extraneous details. Viewing screenshots in your web browser really can't do the game justice. With movement you see little variations, like the wind skipping the tops from the waves, the reflection of your jet-ski and the scenery in the water, partially submerged bonus hoops and icebergs stretching into the dark, and underwater detail that N64 would choke on. On one track, set in the arctic or thereabouts, killer whales swim amongst huge towering ice bergs and thanks to tidal variations (as witnessed on several of the tracks), the water recedes so that on subsequent laps paths you had been relying upon are all but inaccessible and new routes must be located; sometimes at the cost of a few seconds of race time.
Amazingly, despite the complexity of Blue Storm's visuals not one of our reporters witnessed a drop in framerate, even with eight players onscreen. In four player split screen mode, you can technically be faced with up to 16 players onscreen across the various windows. We didn't witness any slowdown, nor any frustrating load time to spoil the event. Blue Storm may push the GameCube quite hard, but the mighty lunchbox barely broke into a sweat as we tore around lakes and harbours. One of our biggest concerns was that NST might tweak the physics engine from Wave Race and produce a dead duck, a boring game where you spend most of the time fighting the waves. Although you do have to pay a lot of attention to the elements, races are still pretty fast-paced and generally speaking you won't slow down too much unless you start missing markers, at which point you're penalised. As with Wave Race, your path around the track is marked out by buoys, which you must navigate around. Miss one and you lose your momentum; miss one too many and you're forcibly retired from the race. The control system is still as intuitive as ever, although it has obviously seen refinement. The analogue stick still handles steering, while the A button deals with acceleration. There's no brake though, because how on earth would a jet-ski brake? The B button is now used to crouch, which makes your rider and his jet-ski more aerodynamic and increases speed. The cost is a loss of absolute control, and you'll definitely have to stand up into those more difficult corners. The X button deals with the Turbo function, of which more later, and the Y button is for fiddling with the camera. The C stick controls the other new feature; stunts.
Stunted? Not a bit of it
The two new control additions are the Turbo and dedicated Stunt functions. Turbo is a much needed adjustment which gives you a temporary speed boost. Coupled with the B button crouch adjustment you fly along for a short period of time - this is damnably useful in multiplayer situations in particular, where a well-placed kick can send a rival flying, and boosting up to their side gives them no time at all to react. The other new addition is the dedicated Stunt function, controlled by the C stick. You can still barrel roll and such using the analogue stick, but by employing the C stick much more can be achieved. Full blown flips and other hooplas are at your disposal. Thanks to the addition of a Stunt mode, you'll have plenty of time to learn how everything works in that department. Control is pretty simple to pick up, even if you're new to the game. Getting the hang of using the analogue and C sticks in conjunction with one another may be a little trying, but on the whole you get progressively better with each subsequent try. NST have really built up a sense of speed this time too. Hunching over your ski and using the Turbo function, speeds can reach uncontrollable levels, and speaking from experience there's nothing like giving it full juice into a jump and doing a double flip. Wahey!
Ride the Tsunami
It was difficult to get a go on Wave Race: Blue Storm for quite a while at The Nintendo Show, which is a testament to its popularity amongst the press and public. There were something like five tracks available to you that we could see, and perhaps 8-10 riders, not to mention single, multi (2-4 players) and stunt modes, and knowing NST there will be a whole host of extras to uncover. Remember the dolphin riding mode in the original? I fancy those killer whales are there for more than show. The thing that most impressed the crowds gathering around the various Wave Race units on Saturday though were the Tsunamis. Blue Storm has an impressive wave system that kicks up all sorts of problems for racers depending on the weather. You can specify the weather and even set it randomly, with options ranging from clear skies to severe storm forces. The crowning feature though is the Tsunami mode, which literally forces you to scale tidal waves in the process of winning races. Blue Storm is one of only two titles launching with the GameCube in 10 days time. Will it be enough? I think it's safe to say both Luigi's Mansion and Wave Race: Blue Storm are going to be tremendous launch titles. Ultimately though, only time can tell.