Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Arcade & Racing
Release Date: 24th of November, 2017 (EU)
*Warning! The following review pertains to the Personal Watercraft commonly referred to as Jet-skis. Jet-ski is actually a brand name of a PWC manufactured by Kawasaki, with Wave Runner being the brand name of a PWC made by Yamaha. Therefore, in this review, the word “Jet-ski” will instead appear as Watercraft, PWC or Ski, just to offer some variety.
I hope you’ve got a towel handy, you’re going to need it to wipe that sea spray off your face!
It might not be out in North America just yet, but Zordix’s Aqua Moto Racing Utopia has finally to a Nintendo platform and that’s saying something, since it was “coming to a Nintendo console” since last year, only instead of Wii U, it’s out on Switch, but the Wii U release is still happening, so if you won’t to hold out for that, you can but before I properly talk about Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time in the 90’s, there was a young boy who had two siblings, with whom he often played video games together. Those children had a dad, who would often spend the Summer taking them down to “the lake,” to spend some time at the shore area with their mum, while dad would break out his stand-up Kawasaki jet-ski, do a couple of tricks and then swap ski for a runabout (sit down) and took it in turns to give each one of his children a ride. Fast forward a couple of Summers, the kids had a Nintendo64 and Wave Race 64 was released. Due to this family’s invested interest in Personal Watercraft, Wave Race was purchased and although it started out at being a game they could share with one another, with the children being given something else they could do with the dad when he wasn’t working long hours in the construction industry, it soon become something else. You see, the dad had a ski enthusiast friend and one day the two of them came across the game and instead of doing whatever it was they had planned, dad should his friend the game and the two hours that followed was a sight to behold.
Dad and friend sat on an edge of a couch, completely engrossed in the action, as arms flayed around in the air. There was no reason why they were playing like that, doing some sort of weird two-man Mexican wave, but they was and it was absolutely funny and if you couldn’t tell, this story is one of my own. I’m not the dad, but I was the young boy who played Wave Race with his dad and I loved it! Wave Race is such a fantastic game and is always a pleasure to play, it also made me love actual watercraft and learn to drive them when I became of age. I would for a second make myself as being an expert of them, as I’m not, but I’ve been riding them for years and have a certain type of knowledge that comes from that experience, which I will be making use of in this review. Also I had a four page spread article in Jet Skier & PW, long before my Miketendo64 days and now let’s get something straight. As great as Wave Race 64 is, by no means is it a perfect game, so can we stop putting it on the pedestal and making it out to be this perfect idea? Every time a “Jet-ski” comes out, it’s almost as if everyone has to compare it to Wave Race and that is the biggest mistake going.
Wave Race 64 is without a doubt a formidable game, but because of this perfect view players and media seem to share of it, it’s like our brains go into an immediate shutdown the second we play another PWC focused game and then what could have been a good game, gets insulted and pushed to one side. I’m not saying there has never been a bad ski game, as there have been many, but our love for Wave Race 64 has made us so negative that no other game can compare and you know what, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is not Wave Race 64 and I’m rather chuffed about that.
I won’t deny I would love to play a true Wave Race 64 successor, instead of a “Spiritual Successor,” but I like skis and I can’t do it all year round, so if there is a game that will let me do it in the confines of my own home, of course it’s got my interest. (It’s the same reason I poured so many hours into both Endless Ocean games.) So Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, it’s not Wave Race 64, but let’s talk about what it is. It is, in a lot of ways, the closest to a sequel we have had in a long time and I know some of you might be having nightmarish flashbacks every time you hear the words “Aqua Moto Racing,” you’re reminded of the Zordix developed and dour Aqua Moto Racing 3D game for 3DS, but the Switch game is not the 3DS title as both graphics and performance are way better (they are HD for a start!)
It’s also a “jet-ski” game you can truly personalise as you can create your very own character for it. The available faces might not be all that, as some are truly ugly, but there are decent ones in the mix and you can personalise what you wear, what colours you get it in and even get some tattoos and a wearable Wizard’s hat. Plus when you have a character you do like the look of, be them male or female, you can set your name and select the country you wish to represent? But what good is this character for? Well if you like getting achievements, doing Time Trials and playing the main campaign of any video game ever, your personalised protagonist is definitely a face and rear you’ll be seeing a lot of.
Graphic wise, although the game only has 10 real world based environments with various tracks for you to play on, each scenery couldn’t be more different than the last and while some spots may appear a tad generic and too “mobile-like,” others can be deep, with water that isn’t just water, but accurate. I’ve heard and read some of complaints players and reviewers have had about the water physics and appearance, but here’s the thing, unless you have been on a speedboat, or a jet-ski for more than just half an hour and have actually studied the water, you don’t know what you’re talking about. At speed, the sea doesn’t look flat and easily penetrable like it actually is. Instead it is formed, moving and almost like jelly and it can go from being flat to wavy, if when racing on a circuit at the wake of other skies have disturbed the surface, which you’re now driving over, or just encountering the waves that were created by the action mentioned. As for the water being too unforgiving to perform stunts on, I’m sorry, but there is nothing wrong with the game’s water. Water and waves move, and when on a stand-up ski, the movement is something you can only ever learn to master, if you put the time into it.
Just like in real-life, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is a game where jet-skiers can perform all kinds of stunts and although landing a jump or two is easier on a sit-down ski, on a stand-up only a perfect landing will ever suffice. You see, “if you’re not falling off, you’re not learning,” which means the only way you will ever learn to do something on a stand-up is to try, try and try again because leaning the wrong way, like tilting a tad too much, is enough to see you land wrong and fall off your ski. As is hitting the water and falling off because when you hit it, you were doing a Bar Hop, a No Footer or even a headstand. This isn’t the game, or the water being a jerk, it’s just being life-like because if you tried doing one of those stunts and forget to get back in place when it comes to landing, you can hurt yourself and depending on what you were doing, you can even kill yourself, so don’t hate the gimmick Zordix have chosen to use, they just want to give you as good a life-like experience they can give, complete with HD Rumble to try and recreate some of the bumps and motions you would fell if you were doing the real thing. The land physics however can be a tad wonky at times, with some of the crashes being a little too over the top, but it’s not game breaking.
Gameplay wise, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is a simple affair. Yes, there are 28 stunts for you to learn and perfect, with lots of precise control movements to memorise and learn, but other than that, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia only requires you to drive (ZR for accelerate and B for your boost, aka Turbo,) know to turn tightly with ZL, land safe and win when engaging in any of the game’s means of play. Oh, and to collect the poker chips you’ll encounter on every level expect the multiplayer ones because they are part of an in-game currency that can be used to buy new skis, provided you have won the required tournaments and championships to unlock them for purchase. (Skis can only be purchased during ski selection screens.)
Talking of championships, Championship is Aqua Moto Racing Utopia’s bread and butter as Championship is its main mode, which is then divided into three leagues, one for runabouts, one for skis and one for freestyle! With the exception of freestyle, which only has three, the other two divisions have six tournaments and requires you to finish in the top 3 to rank up and unlock the next tournament. Now, unlike freestyle that is a simple event of you trying to pull off as many stunts as you can in a given time on a few various tracks, the other two divisions relate to racing and in the old Wave Race of doing things, there are red buoys and there are yellow buoys and while you do need to race round a track as fast as you can, beating the AI opponents as you go, if you don’t drive the right side of each buoy (right for red and left for yellow,) you can lose your turbo (boost) and missing three in a single race is grounds for disqualification.
The good news however though, is that even if you do lose and that is something that can and will happen as the AI in Aqua Moto Racing Utopia can be a tough old bunch, as they can ram you and you fall off, while they carry on, but if you ram them, you’re in the drink and they’re just fine, you can always restart. Any time you get disqualified in a race, or just don’t come first, before advancing to the next track, you can always just restart the race to end it in your favour and although this feels a little like cheating, it’s ideal for the perfectionists and now back to the buoys. While it is true missing one is grounds for your turbo gauge emptying, they can help fill it, only this does depend on how close to the buoy you are when you pass is as a Perfect will fill the gauge up more so than a Good would, but if you’re in a hurry, stunts can fill the gauge up as well. Only, if you are in a real hurry and can’t be bothered to actually stunt yourself, you can always just press A for an easy stunts. You get less points for doing it, but it counts.
As for other things Aqua Moto Racing Utopia has to offer, if you are still looking for a solo experience, there is a Time Trials mode where medals can be earned and a Leisure mode where you can drive round willy nilly, doing whatever you want and collecting the occasion weird ball-shaped item with a Z on it, but be sure to be paying attention. If you get the red Z ball, a bizarre event will trigger and depending on what environment you’re playing, it could be you getting trapped in a cage while a gigantic shark comes at you, only to fail, a crocodile that is kidnapped by birds, dolphins that fly away, or even an enormous Humpback Whale that takes out a ship The best one though is on the Oil Rig level, as the event turns your player and ski into a dolphin and you can just drive round like that until you get bored and quit the level.
But, if it is a multiplayer experience you’re after, than Aqua Moto Racing Utopia has that in spades thanks to a split-screen mode that will allow you and three others to play together and enjoy more than just freestyle, custom race and leisure, but have fun with the Party Games as well. You see, in addition to the standard modes, there are four fun games for you to play entitled Aqua Moto Hockey, Keep the Flag, King of the Hill and Duckling Mama. As for how they play, with Aqua Moto Racing, the goal is to navigate a puck into your opponent’s goal, with Keep the Flag, you must get the flag and keep it for as long as possible and steal it back if it is taken from you, whereas with King of the Hill you just have to try and stay in the ever shrinking ring upon a hill for as long as you can and Duckling Mama, let’s keep that under wraps. I’m just kidding, think the Pied Piper, but with ducks, You have to get as many as you can and lead them to safety away from your opponent, as whoever you’re facing can steal them from you.
I’m not particularly a fan of Duckling Mama, purely because my ducks keep getting stolen, but it is fun, much like Aqua Moto Racing Utopia in general and for a game that isn’t Wave Race 64, when I should him the game this week, we actually sat down together and played it for a bit and it was wonderful. It has been more than 9 years since we had last played a game together and even though Aqua Moto Racing Utopia isn’t Wave Race 64, for those two hours we played together, it might as well have been.
If you are looking for a PWC focused game with a realistic water behaving terrain, where you can so stunts like Dragged Behind and Superman and are willing to forgive the graphics during the times they are lacking, than Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is the perfect game for you. It is not Wave Race 64 and it never will be, but minor frame drops aside, it can be a good to play on your own, with friends or just on the go, even if the price is a little on the steep side due to a physical release. Plus it doesn’t hurt that you can change the view point at any time when driving either!
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*Review Key Provided by Bigben Interactive