Watercraft based racing games are, and always have been, quite rare. What is rarer still is a boat racing game that is actually good; most are cheaply made bargain basement efforts. The original Hydro Thunder remains one of the best aquatic racers ever made. The 2010 sequel, Hydro Thunder Hurricane will perhaps not be so quite fondly remembered and certainly won’t garner the cult following of the original but it’s still a very solid effort and is a game that I have played an inordinate amount of since it was released.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a powerboat racing game set on both circuits and point to point courses. It features 8 standard tracks with 3 additional DLC courses, each featuring a variety of hazards and alternate routes. Players can choose to race both online or offline or try one of the solo secondary game modes: Ringmaster – a slalom event, and Gauntlet – where players navigate courses strewn with bombs against the clock. For my money, the racing is by far the most fun part of the game; it’s where I’ve spent most of my playtime and it’s especially fun in multiplayer. Back when the game was newer there were quite a lot of opportunities to play online and the community was generally very good. These days online sessions are harder to come by but there are still some skilled and friendly players out there.
This game stands out for me partly because I really like racing games that break out of the usual cars and bikes formula and because Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a cut above the usual budget racing game. It’s certainly better than most driving games on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s colourful and the tracks are interesting which is always very important and although the framerate isn’t spectacular you do get a decent sense of speed with the faster boat classes. It’s not the most technical game to play; the water is very smooth which means the handling doesn’t quite have the tactile feeling of the Waverace series but it feels pleasant enough and makes it quite easy to get into.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane was released as part of Xbox Live’s third “Summer of Arcade” event alongside Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, LIMBO and Monday Night Combat. It was met with generally positive reviews. A few outlets, most notably IGN, panned it quite heavily but it mostly received scores in the 7 to 8 out of 10 range. For what my opinion is worth, I’d say it deserved some of the more positive reviews. It’s got room for improvement for sure, particularly the framerate, but overall it’s accessible and colourful and gives you a real sense of late 90s arcade and console gaming when you play it. It’s a fantastic antidote to the charmless street racing games that have become so common in recent years.
Bonus video: It’s hard to represent a game with a lot of content in a single video, so here is a short montage. Not sure how often I’ll do this, it wouldn’t be a bonus if I did it every time.