Reviewed: October 22, 2003
Reviewed by: Travis Young
Released: August 4, 2002
I think the reason I enjoy sports games so much is that they allow me to attempt things I either don’t have the ability or the courage to attempt in real-life. And then there are games like Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild which takes a real extreme sport and puts an insane twist on it that no human would ever attempt within the painful confines of reality.
Rides Gone Wild is the sequel to the 2001 original Splashdown, released by Atari for the PS2 and Xbox. While the game was one of the better watercraft racing titles of its time it was rooted in a more realistic world with some unimaginative tracks and simple trick system. Rides Gone Wild takes the core gaming element from the original and infuses it with an insane trick system featuring no less than 65 tricks that can be mixed and matched into 360 combos (2x the tricks of the first game) and then puts you in some of the most amazing fantasy tracks of any racing game to date.
Unlike the first game, the courses are no longer set in rivers, oceans and waterways from around the world, but are now based on fantasy themes you might find at a major amusement park. Even the opening movie hints at this with a “Tunnel of Love” theme that follows two of the cast members. Not only are these eight new courses totally original, but they are living environments that are continually evolving throughout the race, so hazards and even the paths you take change from lap to lap.
Splashdown and Rides Gone Wild were both created by the gaming wizards at Rainbow Studios who have been proving themselves time and time again with a near-perfect track record of quality releases for a number of publishers. THQ acquired Rainbow back in 2002 in one of the most lucrative deals of the new century and Rides Gone Wild is pretty much the first title we’ve seen since that acquisition. It has certainly been worth the wait…
If you have played the original Splashdown then you will already be right at home from the moment you pick up the controller. Even so, I encourage you to take the tutorials just to refresh your memory and learn the new three-tier trick system.
Controls are simple. You mash the X button to accelerate and let off to coast to a stop. You control the rider’s weight distribution and the lean of the watercraft with the left stick. This allows you to nose the craft underwater (submarine) or pull back and hydroplane for a sustained burst of speed (only available in Simulation mode).
The trick system is incredibly easy to learn and master. You initiate any trick by using the L1, R1, or R2 button combined with a direction on the analog stick or D-Pad. This is a Tier 1 trick that can then be followed with additional movement combos to initiate a Tier 2 and even a Tier 3 stunt. You are basically combining two or three unique stunts together to create a 2x or 3x combo, the longer the combo the more airtime you need to complete and safely land.
Even the most difficult tricks are made easy with a very forgiving input system that doesn’t require precise cardinal direction inputs. This means you can finally use the analog stick to perform your tricks without fear of hitting the wrong direction. You can actually swirl the stick until you hit the directional “sweet spot”. While expert gamers will probably balk at the simplicity, I found it a very refreshing change, plus the fact that stunts are the only way to boost the speed of your watercraft makes the game competitive for gamers of all skill levels.
Stunts earn you points in both racing and freestyle modes but more importantly they fill your boost meter, an arc in the lower-right corner with three segments. This meter slowly fills as you do tricks but it also drains whenever you aren’t doing stunts. When the meter is full your rider will go into a turbo mode that will be maintained until the meter dips back into the second segment. Theoretically, if you can keep the meter filled you could turbo the entire race. Executing a Tier 2 stunt fills two segments while performing a Tier 3 trick will max the meter and put you directly into turbo mode.
Unlike many racing games, you have no control over the turbo. It simply kicks in when you max the meter and cuts off when you run out of “juice”. This can present some interesting challenges as many of the tracks are quite twisted and skimming across the waves at Mach 2 isn’t always desirable.
The rules of Rides Gone Wild are simple. You race three laps against a pack of very aggressive riders and try to place high enough to advance to the next race – usually second place but sometimes you must come in first. The tracks are divided into 8 massive outdoor environments and 12 indoor stadium tracks that resemble a water park plus five custom tracks for the Freestyle mode. The tracks generally have slalom buoys that you must pass on the correct side or risk losing turbo juice or even worse, temporarily stalling your watercraft.
The outdoor tracks are perhaps the most imaginative and best feature of Rides Gone Wild. Rainbow has really captured the theme park spirit with locations like Cannonball Cove, Bermuda Triangle, Dino Island, Polar Plunge, and others. These tracks are breathtaking and so rich with subtle detail that you won’t even see most of it until you sit back and watch somebody else play.
The creativity of the tracks is quite apparent on the very first race. You are zooming around a nice tropical beach when all of the sudden the electronics on your watercraft fizzle out and the HUD turns into a bright white light. When your retina’s open back up you find yourself in a dark and stormy alternate reality inside the Bermuda Triangle. WWII aircraft zoom overhead waging an eternal war and you see the wreckage of hundreds of ships and planes littering the track, or rather creating the track. Occasionally a ship will plunge from the sky splashing into the dark ocean creating huge waves that you must jump over, or a new obstacle to steer around. You might even spot a UFO beaming up one of the ships.
Each lap of each race is different with scripted events creating new scenery, new hazards, and new possible paths and shortcuts you can take. These events unfold the same way each time you play, so they do lose a bit of their originality after four or five races, but it is still a refreshing twist to the tired concept of racing static courses and you will certainly pick up a new detail you missed previously.
There are several great examples of evolving courses. My two favorites are probably Dino Island and Cannonball Cove. Dino Island has you racing through a Jurassic Park-style island full of dinosaurs drinking from the river you are racing along. When you first ramp through the trees and see these massive creatures for the first time you are presented with a majestic soundtrack inspired from the movie. Your first lap is merely a wondrous tour as you weave through the legs of these creatures. On lap two things get dangerous as Raptors line the banks of the river, their snapping jaws waiting to catch anyone who strays within range. The final lap then puts a humorous spin on the entire course when you realize the entire island is a mechanical fake. Dinosaurs will malfunction, heads will fall off dangling from springs, and the T-Rex torso will pop-open revealing gears and other devices.
Cannonball Cove takes on Disney’s “Pirate of the Caribbean” with a very exciting ride that has you winding through a tropical cove full of waterfalls, past a giant fort, and through a hidden underground pirate base. On lap two the pirate ship bursts from the cave and sails towards the fort to engage in battle and on lap three the cannons from the fort blow-up the ship allowing you to ride through the gaping hole in its hull.
The tracks are pure genius and encourage the rider to explore and find shortcuts. Sometimes you even leave the water to land in an icy toboggan run that winds through a glacier or drive through the deck of a wrecked ship or take a shortcut across a sandy beach. But when you are racing on the water you will enjoy some of the best water physics and dynamic waves ever seen on the PS2. Not only do the other riders kick up realistic wakes, but environmental objects interact with the water and create waves and currents that you must use or avoid to maintain optimum speed.
A great example of waves is in the Bermuda level when a giant ship splashes into the ocean creating a huge series of incoming waves that you must time perfectly or lose a lot of your momentum. There are also some great uses of water currents like the exit ramp on Dino Island that propels your watercraft up a steep ramp and shoots you out into the ocean.
Despite all my previous praise there are still a few issues that I have with Rides Gone Wild. The first is the frequent and inexplicably long load times between just about every screen in the game. Loading a race takes a good half-a-minute and when the race is over you can expect a similar wait to get back to the menu. You even have to wait painfully long when shopping for new clothes and other bonus items.
My final complaint comes in two parts. It starts with a very aggressive opponent AI that borders on the unrealistic. Not only do riders have the supernatural ability to catch up to you at the last minute, but they will frequently knock you off the track (especially in the elevated stadium tracks) or ram you into obstacles, yet when you try to do the same to them its like hitting a brick wall. They maintain their perfect racing line while you suffer the recoil of the impact. This ultimately has you avoiding all other racers, which doesn’t make for a very exciting experience.
Part two of this complaint lies in the continue system used in Rides Gone Wild. You have limited continues and some very strict placing requirements to advance. This means that you can (and often will) have to repeat lengthy potions of the game simply because of a last-minute encounter with an AI rider. Once you run out of continues (you are given three) you must restart your career. I can’t count the times I was leading the entire race only to get knocked out by a rider within sight of the finish line. Yet even with these infrequent issues the game is still a total blast to play over and over again.
Even before the PS2 was released Sony was using water and wave effects to demonstrate the power of their next-gen system. Rides Gone Wild is the perhaps the best example of water, reflections, and wave technology to date. With the exception of a few standout titles on the Xbox, it even surpasses any liquid effects we’ve seen on that system as well. The subtle ripples and more forceful wave patterns are flawless and the white foam on the crest of the waves is totally realistic. Perhaps the best water effect is the outstanding reflections that show off just enough of the terrain or stadium details in shimmer colors, distorted just enough so it doesn’t look like a mirror image or fake texture map.
The evolving environments are continually in motion, a great treat for spectators but almost too distracting for the person actually holding the controller. There are surprising details present in every frame of the game; some (like the frozen penguin inside the transparent ice) whip by so fast you’ll be lucky to even see them. There are weather effects like stormy skies with flashing lightning and streaking rain that impair your vision in a realistic and challenging way.
The watercraft and rider animation is very good with individual animations for each of the tricks. They all merge together nicely as you create more than 360 possible combinations. The camera work is nearly perfect. The third-person chase view works 99% of the time and only fails in a few tight locations such as inside the confines of the Cannonball Cove or Polar Plunge cave interiors. Sudden changes in directions, steep ramps with low ceilings, and hairpin turns can create a bit of camera lag that can inadvertently send you into the wall if you aren’t ready for it.
There is a surprisingly good, albeit small, selection of licensed music in Rides Gone Wild combined with some original stuff that makes for some great ambient background music perfect for racing. The music is often themed to the levels, so you get the majestic John Williams-inspired orchestrations for the Dino Island and Cannonball Cove levels before moving on to the authentic western flavor of the Wild West level. The music is so “in-touch” with the environments that it even changes based on the action taking place on each lap.
Each of the riders has a small library of one-liners that are mildly amusing the first time you hear them but grow a bit stale after several hours of gaming. Fortunately, the music drowns out most of the shouting during a race and there are several slider controls in the options to adjust the various volumes to suit your personal taste. The Dolby Pro Logic II surround mix offers a great spatial racing experience surrounding you in environmental sounds and allowing you to hear racers coming up behind you.
Rides Gone Wild will easily offer you 20+ hours of quality gaming. There is a ton of stuff to see and do and more unlockable bonus items than I care to list. Granted, most of this stuff is purely visual and caters to the “if it’s available they will collect it” mentality of gamers. None of the clothing or other items really improves your rider but you can unlock new riders.
There are plenty of game modes to occupy both the single racer and the multiplayer gamer. As with most racing games, the Career mode is the core of the game and must be played to unlock tracks and riders for the other modes. The trick system is quite in-depth and the game is designed as such that you must master all of the stunts and tier levels to complete the game.
Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is quite simply a fantastic game that anyone who enjoys racing will get lost in for weeks and months to come. The gameplay is intuitive and accessible to gamers of all ages and skill levels and the interactive environments and charming level design will delight and fascinate all who play and even those who watch somebody else play.
Rainbow has taken a solid original game and expanded upon the concepts and game mechanics to create one of the most inspired sequels of 2003. Everything that was good remains and has been improved upon. With more courses, more tricks, and hundreds of bonus items to purchase, you won’t find a more rewarding racer for your PS2 this holiday season. Get ready to get wet and go wild!