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Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild
Score: 94%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:
Sure I could probably give this game a grand introduction, maybe go over the history of racing games or the Seadoo watercraft. Or maybe I could prattle on about the differences between jet skis and Seadoos - but, you probably don't want to read that and I sure as hell don't feel like writing it, so let's just move on to the game...

On all accounts, both visually and aurally, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild comes to the show ready to impress. First of all -- Splashdown: RGW sports some of the best water effects I've seen since... Splashdown (the first one). I could spend hours just watching the waves ripple and bobble from the wake of speeding watercraft. I also really enjoyed the player animations and style -- both of which are very reminiscent of the EA Big style. In fact, had I not seen the big THQ at the title screen, you could have told me this was a 'Big' game and I would have bought it hook, line and sinker. Perhaps the more impressive aspect of the game's visual package is the eight amusement park themed courses, all of which are loaded with eye-popping special effects. I especially liked how the courses were different with each lap -- unlocking new little things like a cave glowing with pirate's gold or the animatronic dinosaurs smoking, sparking and breaking down halfway through the dinosaur course.

Though the music lineup isn't as star powered as the first, the game's soundtrack is still excellent. However, 'name' soundtrack may not be for everyone since it tends to skew towards the rock fans with bands like Audiovent, The Donnas and The Exies. Regardless of your tastes, once you hear the songs in the game it's hard not to like them. But, for those who would rather take a red-hot poker in the eye than listen to rock, the game also includes a stellar 'non-star' soundtrack that is just as good. I'd actually encourage people to turn them on during the theme park courses since they really add to the overall feel of the parks. 'Chatter' also plays a big part in Splashdown: RGW. Each character has their own (rather deep) list of trash talks and celebration quotes that they yell out during races. Sometimes they'll break into little dialogs with certain characters, and at others they'll quote the last 15 years worth of pop-culture references. Just don't be surprised when you hear 'There is no spoon' during a race.

The original Splashdown was a fun little racer that didn't get nearly as much attention as it deserved. To be honest, it wasn't until a few minutes after Psibabe handed me Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild that I even recalled playing the first one. Maybe it was the time of year, or just the short length -- but it's one of those games that never stuck with me, but really should have. Though Splashdown: RGW isn't a true sequel, it's still a little more than just an upgrade from the original.

THQ was smart in grabbing Rainbow Studios for this game because their knowledge of making good, solid, fun racers shows. The original Splashdown was more of a realistic game, which took a toll on the game's fun factor. All of the original courses were nice, but felt a little too generic at times. In this edition, Rainbow has gone all out to make the game much more memorable and fun. The more noticeable, and star attraction in my eyes, is the inclusion of eight theme-park ride inspired courses. Since I've probably been to nearly every major resort destination in the US, as well as having the scary (and some may say sad) knack for being able to quote nearly every spiel spouted at all the Disney parks, this element was right up my alley. I especially liked that all the courses are, at least in spirit, based after many popular rides and parks such as Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Blizzard Beach (although the ice level also seems to have some elements of Disneyland's Matterhorn and Epcot's Norway thrown in) as well as Universal's Jurassic Park -- which is by far the most entertaining course in terms of progression.

In addition to these eight courses, the game also includes about 37 other, less-imaginable 'competition' courses. This was one element that really disappointed me. Though I'm sure a majority of players would rather more courses, I'd personally like a few more 'fantasy' courses rather than a bulk of look-alikes. On the plus side, there's still enough variation so you don't feel like you're stuck on the same track. However, after watching ships crash around you, giant marble fountains lose some of their luster.

As if you needed any orientation into the game, Splashdown: RGW has the heart and soul of an arcade racer. After selecting a rider, you can race through Career, Arcade or Exhibition modes. All of these modes are self-explanatory and come down to the same fundamental -- win. Splashdown: RGW also boasts an excellent Multi-player mode once you're able to unlock all the courses.

Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild manages to stay challenging while not treading into the realm of 'hard as hell'. Opponent AI is very good without becoming cheap, making you feel like you always have a chance to pull out a victory. This, however, doesn't mean you're guaranteed a win every time, so you've got your work cut out for you if you plan on unlocking everything available in the game. This adds an enormous amount of replay value to the game -- which will greatly expand on the game's somewhat short length. Completing the game with one character, one time shouldn't take more than a few hours tops.

Game Mechanics:
Thanks to games like SSX: Tricky and Freakstyle, it's unheard of these days to release an arcade racer without some sort of trick system, something Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild has plenty of. Although it may seem very simple and easy at first glance, the system is actually rather deep and boasts something around 300 different combinations. This system is far from a button-masher and requires skill and timing to pull off just right. Each trick or combo is set on a different level (there are three in all), which in turn corresponds to how difficult the trick is to pull off. By pressing the D-pad/ Left Analog Stick and pressing one of the shoulder buttons, you can pull off a simple trick. If you throw in a forward or backwards flip, you'll pull off an even more complicated trick. By moving the D-pad/stick in various directions while still airborne you'll execute a top-level trick. As you pull off tricks, a performance meter will fill, which directly affects how well your watercraft handles as well as its speed.

I think it goes without saying that I definitely recommend this title. Even if you don't normally gravitate towards racing games, the theme park inspired courses are worth at least a rental. Who knows -- the game may even make a racing fan out of you.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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