Although the Dreamcast is plump and lordy when it comes to racing titles, the water-based sub-genre has always looked a little malnourished - the same is true of most consoles. With the exception of Wave Race 64, there are but a smattering of titles one would call good, and very few if any that one could call excellent. Surf Rocket Racers, as the title suggests, is more of an arcade surf 'em up than a simulation. Treating the game as a simulation might have given it the edge over its already skeletal competition, but compared to tarmac, water is a fairly unpredictable variable, so it's understandable that developers CRI are reluctant to deal with it in the same way they might treat Formula 1. And it's partially due to this reluctance and partially due to inexperience that Surf Rocket Racers misses the mark. It's quite a pretty game; the framerate is a fairly constant 30fps and the water effects are reasonable, but at first it's actually difficult to establish if you are really floating on water or on some sort of rollercoaster suspended in a trough. The liquid your rider and his jetski floats upon is more jelly-like than fluidic, and although frequently the competition dash into turns and whip spray up into his face, he never really looks wet.
The character models in SRR look all right, and the animations are nice and efficient as well. You can choose from 6 racers, although you can't select their craft for them, which is a shame. Each racer has varying attributes, presumably as a result of fitness and build. Options include top speed, acceleration, handling, durability and grip - finding the sweet-spot rider isn't all that important though as in practice only one or two of the racers really lag behind in most situations. At times the jetski you are perched upon looks like it could do with some attention, but graphically speaking things are consistent, with some particular detail paid to the backgrounds, which depend on your location. The game ships you all over the world, with a stint in the Bahamas (including lovely glass-clear waters), a trip up the Manhattan River and even a journey through the muddy waters of the Amazon. Slightly confusing is the presence of Rome and its narrow canals. Surely Venice is far more renowned a setting from the perspective of water-works? Unfortunately there are a few more notable eccentricities that also deserve your attention. For instance, a characteristic of the Tricks section is a mid-air turn as your rider flies off the nearest ramp, but the motion of your rider looks almost robotic. At times the water seems to kick up for no apparent reason too, in stark contrast to your own actions and at obscure angles. It would have been nice to see something a little more exciting and original too to flesh the game out, perhaps like the legendary speedboat road-jump in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, or shortcuts through built up areas, as with the introductory sequence to The World is Not Enough. As an Arcade game such possibilities were hardly out of the question either, but CRI have chosen to stick strictly to the waves.
Surf Rocket Racers is quite simplistic when it comes to structure. The objective is always to finish as high up the rankings as possible. In Championship Mode this isn't strictly true, as during the heats placement only has to be above a certain point to ensure safe passage through to the next round. As the field narrows the requirements to progress steadily increase however. There are alternatives to Championship Mode though of course. Time Attack is a good method of building yourself up to the tougher races, and VS Battle is also quite good fun for two players. The split screen mode doesn't encourage a loss of framerate either, which is pleasantly surprising. Tricks & Techniques, mentioned fleetingly in an earlier section, offers mini challenges that require you to perform certain tricks and twists, including flips and other daring feats, while Hazards & Obstacles, in spite of the name, is actually about running over coloured balls in the water and doing so while staying in the lead. Extras include a Replay feature that allows you to track back over your performances and work out either where you went wrong or what you can do to improve your standing. Needless to say, a lot of this stuff isn't the sort of thing that happens in real life, but I do feel that a lot of what does happen in real life is missed out here also.
It's all very well being an arcade game, after all, but even arcade games need a bit of depth to attract players over again. Beyond the tricks feature very little of the game actually deviates from the 'race this way, do it faster than these people' formula. The mini-games that make up Tricks & Techniques are entertaining, but couldn't hold a candle to those found in Crazy Taxi. The other problem is that Surf Rocket Racers, despite the large intervening period is still no better than Wave Race 64 was when it was released five whole years ago. Attacking an under-populated genre only really works if you have something new to offer - perhaps a simulation is the next step. As it is, the boundaries of the watercraft racer haven't even been touched upon, so from a programming perspective the game is quite a cowardly experiment, which is a pity, because developer CRI (who are also responsible for the AeroWings series) aren't likely to want to repeat what they will view as a mistake.
Although pretty useful at what it does, Surf Rocket Racers is by no means the best in its sparsely populated field, and has difficulty keeping up with a game released nearly half a decade ago. The simplistic style actually works against it, and with so little to do, if you'll pardon the pun, it's just too shallow for its own good.
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