Midway Games may be dead in name, but with games such as Hydro Thunder Hurricane, it’ll live on forever. What Hydro Thunder Hurricane accomplishes so brilliantly is capturing the essence of speed all wrapped up in layers upon layers of breathtaking arcade action. Whether it is giant serpents attempting to gobble up passing boats or alien spaceships capturing players in their tractor beams, Hydro Thunder Hurricane never relents, not even for one moment.
Offering eight tracks, nine boats (with variable skins to unlock), and four race modes, Hydro Thunder Hurricane is as entertaining offline as it is online. Of the four race modes, Ring Master turned out to be the most entertaining due to the high octane speeds combined with requiring precision to pass through green, gold/yellow or red rings. Often reaching 200mph, selecting the appropriate boat for every course in Ring Master is essential as each medal (Gold, Silver, and Bronze) have time requirements to provide players credits to unlock in-game items such as new tracks, skins and the like. In addition, Ring Master allowed for exploration of the tracks to find secret shortcuts that potentially shave off seconds off each lap – a definite must since many of the courses, especially when played within the Expert difficulty level, aren’t easily conquered.
The other race modes – Race, Gauntlet and Championship – aren’t exactly dissimilar from one another as the biggest difference often is the amount of explosive barrels and computer AI on each track. Race is just as it sounds; a single race against 16 computer AI. Championship is a multi-race mode where players must rack up points based on their position against the same amount of computer opponents. Gauntlet is a time trial mode on steroids due to the fact that developer Vector Unit throws in explosive barrels around every corner to ruin the perfect lap. Frankly, outside of earning gold medals, these three modes don’t scream for multiple playthroughs.
To further the longevity of the title, players must earn credits by earning a bronze medal or higher to unlock new tracks, boats, skins and events. In total, there are 50 events to race through; each varied in Novice, Pro and Expert difficulty levels. Each difficulty level permits a certain amount of boats to use as the requirements for medal placing are much more challenging on Expert. For the most part, Novice and Pro aren’t terribly tasking on the player’s frustration level — so long as they aren’t crashing into walls or running off course. On the other hand, Expert should require peak performances from players to earn themselves a gold medal on every track and earn the achievement points for doing so.
Perhaps the most discernible aspect of Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the track design. Of the eight courses, five stuck out with outstanding layouts that offer hidden paths that will require multiple playthroughs to find every nook and cranny. Those five happen to be the last five unlocked. The previous three – Monster Island, Lake Powell, Storming Asgard – are light affairs that don’t exactly capture the level of joy the later tracks do. And, I have to admit, it was the first three levels that painted the wrong picture of Hydro Thunder Hurricane upon the first few hours of gameplay since they didn’t exactly reach out and draw me in. It was only until I reached Tsunami Bowl and Lost Babylon that the addiction became a reality.
That’s right; Hydro Thunder Hurricane should bring forth a craving addiction for players on the Xbox Live Arcade that hasn’t been seen since the likes of Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2. Earning gold medals within each event, along with topping friends on each event’s leaderboards, is an amazing facet that not many video games offer in the current climate of XBLA titles. Combined with the online multiplayer that offers two game modes (eight players allowed in Race and four in Rubber Ducky), Hydro Thunder Hurricane delivers an astounding multiplayer experience that brings back nostalgic memories of the arcade scene.
On the plus side, Hydro Thunder Hurricane permits players to take three local friends with them online to increase the excitement level of online matches. This tiny addition aids in proving that Vector Unit knew exactly how to produce a stimulating racing experience; an experience that never stops giving, even after hours of play. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the must-have arcade racer of 2010.