For a system to succeed right off of the bat it is going to need good arcade translations so players can play the games that they love to play in the arcades at home. This worked for Atari with Asteroids and Space Invaders and for the NES with Super Mario Land. People will buy the system if they see the games that they know and a lot of them. Midway has jumped on the Dreamcast's bandwagon with a bunch of its arcade hits. In fact next to Namco's Soul Caliber, Midway owns the arcade port games for the Dreamcast.
One of the three games Midway has taken from the arcades is the smash hit, Hydro Thunder. This boat racing game is similar to Midway's Rush complete with tons of shortcuts and little tricks to learn. While it is very easy to get around in the boat and gain a good position, it is very difficult to consistently come in first place. The most important thing is that throughout the entire race the game is fun to play and always remains close and exciting. It seem that from the start to the finish there is always an opponent either right ahead of you, or on your tail, or both.
The boats handle themselves very well. The game touts "Real Newtonian Physics" to make the boats feel and race accurately on a variety of different conditions. What’s more is that there are a number of different kinds of boats to earn and choose from. However, these kinds of realistic features are lost when they get in the way of having fun. For example, the boats look really authentic bobbing on the water, but once they hit something they bounce off of it like the entire world was made out of rubber. Also how realistic is it when a boat is jetting down a paved road. The nice thing is that this keeps the games close, competitive and fun. It sucks to get stuck.
Truly what makes the game though is its Mighty Hull feature, which is the extra turbo engine that comes out when you pick up the turbo icons on the courses. At the right moment an extra boost of juice can mean the difference between 1st and 3rd. Another great use of the booster is Hydro Jumping. When the driver slams on the brakes in addition to slamming the turbo full blast, the boat launches itself high into the air. This can be utilized to find secrets, hidden items, or just plain leaving someone in the wake.
The game is very fast and furious much more so than any other arcade racer. The fact that the boats can go underwater through the air and off the walls makes for some really exciting, crazy-ass visuals. Boats have much more freedom than cars so the races have much more diversity. And with the incredible level designs that Hydro Thunder has, the races can always go a number of different ways depending on who hits the shortcuts or picks up the turbos. Plus, even if you have to race the same tracks over and over, there are so many little things in each that you will have to play the game numerous times to find them all.
If you have played this in the arcades and do not mind using a controller instead of the great steering and throttle system of the arcade version, then you won't be disapointed by this translation. The only thing that I really noticed as a drag was the loading time. There is plenty of it. It really brings you down from the exciting white knuckle racing. Since you have to select a boat and track for every race it can take nearly 2 minutes from the end of one race to the start of another. A tournament mode would have been nice.
With 16 track and 16 boats (including a battleship and a fishing boat) the game has plenty of play to it. It is also fun with a friend although all of the other racers are absent in 2 player mode. Since there has never really been a good boat racing game arcade or otherwise on the home market (with the possible exception of Jet Moto if you call that boat racing) Hydro Thunder really has no competition, except its arcade counterpart. It is games like this that will put the system in on gamers' buy lists. It should already be on yours.