Hydro Thunder Go has a lot to live up to. Following a slew of ports of iPhone games, this is the first triple-A title to be exclusive to Windows Phone 7. Well, I say exclusive – it is admittedly a spin-off of an Xbox Live Arcade title which was itself a resurrection of a game that first saw life in the arcades in 1999. However, with unique levels and vehicles, this is no lazy port – the question is, how does the gameplay hold up these days?
First, a quick overview of the mechanics – these remain largely unchanged from the Midway original, so those familiar with it may want to skip the next few paragraphs. Hydro Thunder Go is, of course, a nautically-themed racing game. As with the other games in the ‘Thunder’ series, the key to success isn’t simply following the best racing line, but rather making sure that you pick up every possible boost canister on the way through the course, as these are the only way to keep yourself competitive; without boost canisters you can’t boost, and without boosting you won’t be overtaking anyone. Whereas other arcade racing games dole out boost powerups relatively sparingly, in an ideal race of Hydro Thunder Go you will never stop boosting. On top of making you faster, boosting enables you to shunt small obstacles and opponents out of the way, and to ‘boost jump’, allowing you to avoid larger obstacles and access alternate routes.
These simple mechanics make for exciting gameplay, as rather than focussing on taking tight corners and accounting for your opponents, you find yourself having to decide between taking shorter routes with less boost, longer routes with plenty of boost, or the risky alternate routes which require precision cornering and/or jumping to access. Moreover, on the courses with multiple laps (several of the nine tracks are longer, single-lap affairs) boost canisters do not regenerate, so you’ll actually need to take a different route each time. On top of this, the courses are all highly active, as you find yourself racing through sea battles, monster attacks and UFO invasions, and so having to take into account moving scenery and significant chop (this is a game which remembers you’re on water, happily, so waves and currents actually have an effect on your vehicle).
In short, this is a game which sets out to have you think on your feet, working out the best routes in adaptive landscapes while making sure to grab every boost canister and never stop boosting. So does that make for a fun game?
Short answer: yes. The levels and boats are varied enough that replaying them is never dull – each race taking no more than three minutes on average, they offer short, punchy experiences, meaning that going back to find the alternate routes is never a chore. Moreover, the game knows how to make you feel rewarded for your efforts: every race earns you points, no matter how you place, and points unlock new tracks, vehicles and modes, including one called Hydro Blaze, which is a combination of Wipeout’s Zone mode with a platformer – you have to progress along an abstract track until you fail a jump or fall off the side, at which point the game is over, and you’re scored according to how far you got. It records separate in-game trophies depending on the ‘class’ of your vehicle (of which there are three: Novice, Pro and Expert). It registers your times and scores in Time Attack and Hydro Blaze modes to an online leaderboard, and allows you to race against your friends’ ghosts. On top of this there are achievements tied into your actions, which encourage you to try new things (like maximise your airtime, or go out of your way to ensure you manage an entire race without running out of boost). The developers have really gone out of their way to ensure you enjoy your time with the game.
Nothing’s perfect, however. To match the general production values of the game, the graphics are impressive – while not quite as pretty as the XBLA game, it’s still colourful, characterful and filled with nice reflection and transparency effects; it’s certainly one of the fanciest looking games on Windows Phone. However, this comes with a price: the frame-rate is choppy at best. It isn’t too bad in the time-trials or Hydro Blaze mode, but when you’re in a normal race and running close to several opponents and/or active environment effects, the game can stutter very badly – which can spell your doom if it happens just as you’re dealing with a tricky corner. However, you do learn to account for this, and it actually happens less regularly as you get better at the game (as you spend less time jostling for position with the pack), so it isn’t game-breaking. However, if we could have lost a little bit of the visual splendour in return for a smoother frame-rate, I think the pay-off would have been worth it.
Aside from that, there’s the question of value. Nine short tracks isn’t all that much, and while you’ll certainly get a good few hours of entertainment out of the game, is it worth the cost? The leaderboards and Hydro Blaze mode add a lot of value, and at $4.99 US, I’d say yes. However, if you’re unlucky enough to live in the UK, that price rises to £3.99, or over $6.50 US, which seems a bit high.
But, despite the question of value, and the technical problems, this is a really fun game. The races are exciting, the controls are excellent (watch my video review if you want to see them in action), the levels are well designed and there’s an excellent sense of progression to the whole thing. As such I have to recommend this game to all Windows Phone owners, albeit with mild reservations.
Hydro Thunder Go WP7 xBox Live Achievements
- Cha Ching! (25 points): Earn 1.000 credits.
- Spare Change (10 points): Earn 5.000 credits.
- Big Earner (10 points): Earn 10.000 credits.
- Show Me The Money (10 points): Earn 25.000 credits.
- Splish Splash (35 points): Earn a Trophy.
- Right On Time (35 points): Complete a Time Attack race.
- It’s a Start (20 points): Earn a Bronze trophy or better on all stages.
- Tick Tick Tick (10 points): Beat all par times in Time Attack.
- Golden Delicious (10 points): Earn a Gold trophy or better on all stages.
- Taste My Wake (10 points): Download and beat a ghost in Time Attack.
- Turbo Starter (10 points): Turbo Start in a race by tapping the screen in sync with the countdown.
- Looong Waaay Down! (5 points): Be Airborne over 13 seconds.
Additionally there are two secret achievements.
- Reckless Yachting (5 points): Destroyed all Gondols in Venice in a single race.
- Overdrive (5 points): Had Boost activated through-out a whole race.
Hydro Thunder Go Gameplay Video
Hydro Thunder Go Screenshots
Version Under Review : 188.8.131.52
There is a trial version available and the full version is available for $4.99, we are not sure what are the limitations of the trial version.
Our Rating for Hydro Thunder Go
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