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Hydro Thunder Review (Dreamcast)

by Brian Kirkpatrick

      Possibly the most popular boat racing game ever, Hydro Thunder makes its premiere on the console platform as one the Sega Dreamcast's 19 launch titles.  There's no plot, but who needs one? It's a fun boat racing game.  You race boats.  That's the closest thing to a plot you get or need.

      I played Hydro Thunder about a hundred times in the arcade, so I definitely know that the Dreamcast version is not arcade perfect.  While the tracks and boats are all the same, excepting the two extra tracks on the Dreamcast version and Greek Isles now being a Medium track, the graphics and sound actually suffered. 

      The very first thing I noticed about the Dreamcast version was also something added: Load-Time.  Out of all the Dreamcast launch titles I played, Hydro Thunder had the worst.  It takes a long time to load between the track selection and boat selection menus.  Obviously Midway decided not to utilize the Dreamcast's 24 megabytes of RAM. 

      The second thing I noticed was, however cool the announcer was in the arcade version, he was just annoying in the home version.  First, they used a bad encoder for their sound, so you hear computer static on all the sound effects, but it's never more noticeable that on the

announcer's voice.  Second, when you play it in the arcade, the cheesy sounding announcer adds to the entire experience of playing the game.  You've got the chair that shakes with speakers right where your head rests, the sounds of people and other video game machines resounding in the background, a steering wheel, throttle, and a very large screen you can move the seat right up

to.  At home, I'm sitting on my bed, looking down at my 13" screen with a Dreamcast controller in my hand, waiting for the menu to load, and thinking how lame it is to be home on a Friday night.  The announcer just adds to the whole frustration of the situation, because you know that's what's causing the slow loading time.  Without other sounds in the background, he just sounds cheesy.

      And, of course, I missed all that stuff I mentioned last paragraph.

      The third thing I noticed was while playing.  Surfaces weren't loading in the distance. Sure, all the polygons were there, but the arrows on the jumps, for example, weren't loading until up-close.  It was most noticeable on Arctic Circle when I entered the tanker behind all those penguins.  I couldn't see the large jump in the middle until I had already missed it, and I even knew it was there.  Most of the time it doesn't matter, as there's enough lighting to make everything out, but sometimes it'll cost your first.

      Which brings me to another thing I didn't like.  You have to unlock medium and hard tracks and boats.  This is really bad for anyone who doesn't yet have a VMU due to lack of supply or money.  I, myself, do not have a VMU, and I don't like the easy boats or tracks.  I hate having to play with those just to advance to the medium tracks and boats.  At that point, I have to come in second or first place on the one track I have never done well on: Lake Powell. Needless to say, I have yet to play with the hard tracks or boats.

      The game play is pretty much the same as the arcade version.  Sure, I don't have the cool steering wheel or the throttle with the boost button (the latter of which I don't really miss because I always had trouble doing a hydro jump with that thing), but it plays through pretty much the same.  If you haven't played the arcade game, it's something you absolutely must do. 

      With all of its faults, it's still my favorite Dreamcast launch title.  While the graphics and sound unjustly suffered the transition from arcade to console, and it lost much of its altogether experience, so long as you have a VMU, it's still much fun.  Too bad the Dreamcast controller sucks.

7 out of 10

It's not the arcade version, but it's still fun.