Splashdown

Gamestyle Archive intro: another PS2 title that time forgot? This time it’s Splashdown from November 2001; a solid enough arcade racer but nothing to entail much longevity. This one is from JJ.

Splashdown_(video_game)

Splashdown is the latest water racing game from Infogrames and Rainbow Studios but as with all games in this genre it can only be compared to Wave Race. Does the game try the same old things or make new inroads offering much needed fresh ideas? The concept is simple, racing on water but this time on the official Sea-Doo racers across the globe.

The game takes you from sunny California to the wet and miserable Loch Ness – more Scottish levels in games please! How did I know it was going to be raining on that level when I first played it? In total there are eighteen tracks, twelve of which are opened after completing the Career Mode. The rest as they say are up to you. The game offers four modes and these are Career, Arcade, Versus and Training Modes, nothing new or original and that must be viewed as a disappointment after the comprehensive selection offered by MXrider, also by Infogrames. Training is the most obvious starting point and is well worth the effort and covers the basics. Without this you will miss out on necessary manoeuvres to tackle obstacles after landing or methods to improve your speed and performance.

The Arcade option offers four events, these being Circuit, Time Trial, Free Ride and Countdown. The inclusion of the Free Ride option does raise issues as while it allows you to enjoy the design and look of the courses it removes the challenge of finding bonus items as mentioned later. Countdown is a variation of the Crazy Taxi challenge involving balloons and it nice, if abrupt distraction. I would have preferred an option with more depth such as design your own track, rider or Sea-Doo allowing some customisation and giving Splashdown some much needed identity of its own. The Versus mode has been given life with some playable enough options, rather than just racing Copycat (as the name suggests) is where the second player must copy the stunt performed by the leader. Each time this does not happen then the victor receives a letter, once you’ve spelt Splash, you win.

Stunts form an important part of the game and when used can cut seconds off your lap times – all the more disappointing that a Freestyle mode wasn’t included in the package. In total there are over thirty stunts available and these range in difficulty, from easy to hard. Successfully completing stunts increases your Performance Meter, which in time will give you a speed boost and more importantly it will allow you to bypass buoys thereby reducing your lap times. In order to even attempt any stunt you need to hit the water ramps at high speeds, perform the stunt in time before you attempt to land. If you miss a buoy when your meter is low, your racer will stall for several crucial seconds. The longer that you hold or perform a stunt the more dramatic the increase in the meter level but performing the same tricks will have a negative effect. Career mode serves as the main axis for the whole game as winning opens up new tracks that can be selected in other modes.

Extra bonus items are hidden off the main racing line and these items include new characters and wetsuits also accessed in Free Ride. Most are well placed, meaning that if you go for a bonus it will quite possibly spoil that lap, if you can locate the item in the first place. A qualifying round precedes each course in this mode and depending on the difficulty setting, the necessary qualification time is challenging. . Every so often before each race you will be invited to a take part in a little one on one Challenge Round. If you win then your opponent becomes a member of your team and unusually in the career mode you can switch between team members. If a particular course is proving difficult it may be advisable to try another team member as each racer has different statistics and qualities. It does feel like cheating to a certain degree, a true champion is someone that can overcome all obstacles put in their way.

The eight characters in the game are instantly forgettable apart from their atrocious accents and phrases. I’m not sure what dialect the developers envisaged Juana Lopez having, but a Scots accent perhaps wasn’t planned but is thoroughly amusing. The most important aspect of any game is how it feels and plays, while I will be critical of Splashdown later I find myself sitting down to play it without often realising. It certainly does have that, one more go factor, thanks to the solid course design and handling of the craft. One criticism of the courses on offer is that perhaps more imagination could have been implemented as more effort has been put into the surrounding environments. Courses can all be pigeonholed into a few difficult corners, well placed buoys, obstacles and finally water ramps. Big jumps are the most thrilling part of the game and to have just a few tracks that are not based on real locations, rather pure fantasy with enormous leaps off cliffs or waterfalls would have been a real highlight.

The Dreamcast title Surf Rocket Racers offered this as one of its strongest aspects. Graphically the game is good overall, suffering from no slowdown or jaggy edges that still plague many Playstation 2 titles released today. The detail and high resolution of the textures and environments cannot be fully appreciated unless you take a stroll in the Free Ride option. The water effects, which for this game have their own technical term (as with all games in this genre) are dubbed hydrodynamic, suitably impressive but after Wave Race: Blue Storm, lacking the touches of Nintendo’s series. The physics of the game overall good, control is affected in deeper, rougher waters and you soon learn to compensate by altering your angle. The weather and skies in Splashdown are impressive, you can feel the sun shining down on you and reflecting on the water. The work involved can only be appreciated in the replays offered at the end of every race and is worth reviewing.

Musically Splashdown has gone for the typical popular punk route but someone in the music department has a bit of taste. While we’re all aware of Blink 182 and their Quo-like repetition actually hearing Man or Astroman, The Donnas, Sum 41, Smash Mouth and the Groovie Ghoulies came as a nice surprise to the usual fodder we’re presented with. Some New Bomb Turks or Humpers would have topped it off a treat, next time perhaps? Overall a strong soundtrack and one that fits with the game you’re playing, however Mike still won’t (as many out there) enjoy the tunes. Three important areas that I find fault with Splashdown are firstly depth, as there is not enough on offer to keep you entertained once the short-lived career mode is complete. The bonuses are merely visual extras and with the exception of coming back for a quick play now and again, this will be a game that with some additional modes could have risen above good.

The second area is the control system, at times the analogue stick just does not feel right and overall it’s flawed, the D-pad is a saving grace. Most games use the square button to brake but here it activates an active camera, which should have been kept for replays only, very annoying when pressed accidentally. Pressing the shoulder buttons activates stunts and appropriate buttons/directions on the pad and it feels unnecessarily complex and unfriendly. The final area of criticism is collision detection, landing on other riders with no ill effects or flying off your craft with the slightest bump suggest problems. Yet with all these criticisms I still find myself playing the odd course now and again, Splashdown: playable, visually impressive and good but should have been much better.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

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