Who remembers Wave Race? What? Analog stick? Polygons? 64 bits? I think we might have crossed wires. I’m talking about Wave Race on the Game Boy, where it all started. The 2D water-racing extravaganza that fits in the palm of your hand, or bulge in your pocket with the original purple button Game Boy.
Back before anyone had played the well-liked Wave Race 64, and way back before Blue Storm on the GameCube, gamers were dashing over pixel H2O and bashing into rivals racers. How does the Game Boy handle high speed water-based racing?
We’ll start with the story and now we’ll finish with the story now because there isn’t one. Wave Race is simply about racing. One could strain a story out about the player trying to move his way up the different leagues, but really there is no story to speak of.
So in Wave Race you’re going to be doing a lot of racing (who would have guessed?!) And you’ll have four possible ways to go about it. First you’ve got the Circuit mode, and this is the traditional
‘Grand Prix’ style event that racing fans will be familiar with. In Circuit you’ll compete in four, six or eight courses depending on the difficulty level you choose, and compete against three computer-controlled opponents. To start with there will only be 550cc (easy difficulty), and depending on where you finish in each race you’ll win a number of points. If you have enough points by the time you finish all the races the second difficulty (650cc) becomes available for selection. It won’t be easy to reach those dizzy heights though, and especially so if you’re a beginner. That’s because Wave Race does a good job of differentiating itself from other racers by simulating the feeling of racing over water. Simulate might be a strong word by today’s standards, but I noticed the distinct feeling that Wave Race has as you take turns without the sort of traction that a wheel on a road has. To put is simply, it’s easier to find your jet-ski skidding off the track then you will in some other racing games. When you’re playing you’ll notice quite quickly that your jet-ski has somewhat stiff turning. Often times that means that a sharp turn will see you ending up off the track, and your computer-controlled rivals will have no qualms about capitalizing on even the smallest mistake to take the lead from you. While you race you’ll see a timer at the bottom of the screen that tells how long you have to finish your current lap. If you don’t complete the lap in time your race will end and you’ll win no points at all. There’s also a meter that will slowly fill-up as you race, and this is your boost (called the ‘Turbo Jet’). You’re free to use the turbo boost at any time but it’s best saved for long stretches of straight track or to help force your jet-ski’s momentum to change when taking a sharp turn.
The tracks themselves are mostly simple with the emphasis on racing rather than obstacles. There’s only the occasional whirlpool or strong current sections of track to avoid. There are also jump-ramps that you can take, and even alter your time in the air be holding up or down on the d-pad.
To give you a hand there are two power-ups that you can grab on your way to victory. The first is the octopus, who will steal turbo meter from your opponents if you knock into them. The second is the dolphin, which will make turning much easier.
As far as controls things could hardly be more simple. The B button accelerates your jet-ski and the
A button uses the turbo meter. Right on the D-pad turns you right, left turns you left and up and down alters your trajectory in the air.
If a traditional race format doesn’t suit you then there’s the ‘Slalom’ mode. In this mode you have to pass between a series of pylons plotted about the map for one point each, but only the first racer to pass through receives a point. After every pair of pylons has been cleared the race ends.
You have practice mode where you can race courses without the distraction of the computer to hone your skills, which I appreciated for one track in particular.
And finally there’s ‘Multi’ mode. Here you and another player can go head-to-head if you each have a Game Boy, a copy of Wave Race and a Game Boy link cable. You can have as many as 4 players racing together if each has a Game Boy, a copy of the game, 3 link cables and the Game Boy 4 player adapter.
Wave Race is something of a mixed-bag. The graphics are nice and the animated scenes showing your victories and defeats are fun, but there’s hardly any music in the game, so you’re left with the engine sound-effects when racing. The difficulty is perfect to extend the life of the Grand Prix mode and adds to the triumph when you manage to come in first on that one course where the game was giving you a hard time. But then again, at times it can also feel a little unfair on the highest difficulty as you watch the lead racer rush ahead of you at a speed that you can only beat if you boost.
So there’s good and bad when considering whether you should pick-up Wave Race. Given that the game can be bought for as little as £1 loose and as much as £25 complete (as of writing) there’s a wide range as far as value to be had. If you’re looking for a racing-focused game that’s a little different then I’d say you should give Wave Race a tried, and if you’re not picky about boxes and manuals when it comes to Game Boy games then it’s impossible for me to say you’d be going wrong at a £1.
It may take a little practice before you get the hang of racing on water, but if you stick with it you’ll find a fun, if at times a slightly frustrating game in Wave Race.
I give it a 6.9 out of 10.
For Stage-Select, this was Ed.