Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Aqua Moto Racing Utopia


One of my favorite racing series of all-time continues to be Wave Race. From the moment I first played it on the Nintendo 64 I was sucked in by the game’s combination of fluid (Ha!) racing dynamics and completely different style. Ever since the fabulous Blue Storm I’ve been praying Nintendo will revive the series. In order to help try fill that void there’s now Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, and while it doesn’t quite deliver everything I could hope for in a successor to that series it does some things well enough to be worthy of your consideration.


Your options in the game will have you either racing on the more stable Runabouts, the more maneuverable Jet Skis, or taking to the water in Stunt Mode. Starting with Stunt Mode, something that I never really got into even in the Wave Race days I’d say it is there as an option and something to mess with. There are a fair number of stunts you can do in the game and they’re reasonably easy to execute, it’s just a stunt mode in the end and doesn’t do anything that makes it likely worthwhile to most people beyond something to dabble in. The meat of the game is definitely in the racing, and with that there’s both good and bad.

First, I like the fact that the game has these two divisions as, overall, they do play a bit differently. The bulkier and less agile Runabout mode plays out a little more like a NASCAR race with a bit more contact and fun. I do enjoy running people into pylons and while the physics can be a bit weird at times collisions don’t work out too badly. Once you get into the Jet Ski circuit you can still make some contact but, in general, you’ll want to be focused on your technique and the turning on them is far more responsive. Second, and possibly most vitally, I absolutely love the waves in the game when they’re fully used. They’re rough, often unpredictable, and get a bit choppier than Wave Race ever was. That leads into the third thing I love and that’s the majority of tracks, particularly ones with open ocean portions. A few tracks I enjoyed particularly because they had a mix of more shallow water segments that would then at one point shift into open water and larger waves. It was mostly on tracks with some diversity where I had the most fun.


Getting into the downsides the one that can’t be avoided is that in docked mode the framerate, in places, can get a bit on the choppy side. For the most part it thankfully doesn’t interfere with gameplay but even as someone who isn’t obsessed with framerate in some sections you can’t miss it. The great news is that if you enjoy playing games in handheld mode it is far more stable that way and looks terrific. Just something to keep in mind. Another issue that can come up is that the physics in places are just weird and lead to some strange interactions with other racers or elements in the environment. It’s not so bad that you become scared to make any contact at all but there are times where the oddity can get frustrating in the pack as you get bumped around. This problem can extend into the track designs at times, with some of the shallow water tracks having a little too much on the edges or in the middle for you to make contact with. The variation is nice but the game plays much better in open water overall. The final issue I’d say the game has is a general lack of flair and personality. The racing can be exciting but there’s a certain extra touch that isn’t quite there that could have taken it to another level.

Overall, as a huge fan of the Wave Race series, I’m a bit split down the middle on Utopia. There are things it does quite well and it gets points for bringing big waves to the party with some technically-challenging tracks you’ll need to maneuver well in to win. Most of the tracks are good, some are a bit lacking, but a few also move in the direction of brilliance. The most troubling issue is definitely with the frame rate while in docked mode. It isn’t constant and it isn’t crippling, but it can be difficult to miss in places. Thankfully if you don’t mind or even prefer handheld mode that becomes far less of a concern. While it isn’t a replacement for the series I love I’ll give it credit for ambition and not being a game where you race on a blue track like many other series have done. If you understand what you’re in for and have a love for racing in the waves it is certainly worth your consideration.



Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • Some terrific tracks that are challenging and feel great
  • The waves can be formidable and are implemented nicely
  • The Runabout and Jet Ski Circuits provide variety in handling and racing style
Cons:
  • Intermittent frame rate issues in docked mode
  • The physics can be a bit odd at times
  • Lacks personality


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