Reviews Xbox Xbox 360

Hydro Thunder Hurricane, A Boat-load Of Arcade Fun

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Hydro Thunder Hurricane

Developer: Vector Unit
Release Date: July 28, 2010
Available as: Digital

Hydro Thunder's Sequel Came And Went...Like A Hurricane

While arcade games were at a decline from 1999 onward, Midway continued to maintain a presence in the coin-op era. Hydro Thunder was one of the many successful titles that had simple controls which didn't require driving skills to play. I remember the Hydro Thunder cabinet being a sit-down racer with a steering wheel, a thruster, and a boost button. The rumbling of the machine, combined with its impressive visuals at the time and high-speed racing was phenomenal at the time. The console ports didn't compromise from its arcade counterpart either, on the Dreamcast at least. Hence, why in 2010 it was interesting that it took over a decade to see a sequel in Hydro Thunder Hurricane.

Those who are gaming history savvy will know the date of Hurricane's release coincided with the unfortunate downfall of Midway Games, a month prior. While its assets would be purchased by Warner Bros, the development of a powerboat racing game was already well on its way. The decision to make it a Thunder title was made as Midway was at the peak of its bankruptcy. I could be wrong, but this would make Hydro Thunder Hurricane the first post-Midway title to release following its closure. The team behind Hurricane, Vector Unit, was a new developer at the time. Over the years they would go on to make mobile racing games, most famously the Riptide GP series.


Games With Gold Finally Strikes...Gold!

It's nice to look back at a developer's origins to see how far the company has gone since its humble beginnings. Having played Riptide GP2, a game released four years after this one, I can appreciate what Vector Unit was going for here. The developers didn't want to replicate Hydro Thunder's success, but they wanted to make their own personal spin on it. The result is a title that isn't like the original but holds up well a decade later.

I'll repeat, for those playing this for the first time, that this is not the Hydro Thunder you're used to. The entire gameplay system has been overhauled, powerboats that were in the previous game have been rebalanced, and only one track returns from the original. While Lake Powell was one of the "medium" courses in the original game, this is Hurricane's first level. The only similarity between the two versions aside from its name is it's on a lake in the late afternoon. This was intentional to let players know this was not the Hydro Thunder players were used to ten years ago.


Not Your Barcade's Hydro Thunder

Each boat is separated into two different classes, the first based on the "difficulty" of the boat. Players only have access to Novice difficulty boats, with Pro and Expert boats unlocked soon after. The higher tiered difficulty means the boats are faster yet harder to control. Conversely, the novice difficulty boats are easier to control yet are far slower to get the player used to the controls. Pro boats sit comfortably in the middle.

Then there's one boat, in particular, that's not even a boat. It's a rubber duck. I've only had a chance to play with this boat in online multiplayer and it does it right. Online, everything is unlocked, from the boats to the tracks. This means that players can choose their favorite boat and not have to worry about getting left in the dust (waves?)

After trying the Razorback, my favorite boat in the original Hydro Thunder, I saw the Rubber Duck. This boat had the weakest stats out of every boat available. Even its description mentioned that it's a joke vehicle. I didn't care, for it was a rubber duck. It even squeaked when you make contact with another driver and it extends a wind-up key when a boost is available. Silly things like these show how much thought Vector Unit put into this game.


For An XBLA Game, There's A Lot Of Content

It's borderline petty for me to say this, but Hydro Thunder Hurricane was released during a time when everything that the player saw in the base game could be unlocked. The payouts for winning events both in single and multiplayer modes are generous. There are also many game modes including a checkpoint-style race, a time trial mode littered with explosives, and a tournament mode. Players can earn boats and new events the more they win races, opening the number of content by a vast amount.

While the courses in Hurricane are almost as insane as the original Hydro Thunder, the former had memorable courses. This isn't a fault of Hurricane but rather a testament to how dynamic Hydro Thunder's courses were. A post-apocalyptic New York followed by a vast and grim ship graveyard were just two of many courses available. The original courses Hurricane has to offer certainly hold their own. Storming Asgard has the player storm through a, well, a tempest of Greek gods. Monster Island is a circuit where every lap alters the course in some way.


Hydro Thunder Hurricane's Second Wind Is Something To Ride

This is more than likely the one time that Hydro Thunder Hurricane will receive as many concurrent players since a decade ago. Whenever anything is free, most people are going to want to play online to see what the buzz is all about. While several Games With Gold titles have been busts, Hydro Thunder Hurricane is one of the best titles to grab in recent history. Speaking with a bias towards the original game aside, it serves as a great starting point for Vector Unit.

The developer has been making racing games to this day, its latest release being Beach Buggy Racing 2: Island Adventure coming off the heels of a Hot Wheels collaboration. While Hurricane never received an "official" follow-up, the Riptide GP series can be considered a spiritual successor. Regardless, get it while it's hot so you can experience the fun of owning online players with a rubber ducky as well.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane is available on Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. It's May's free Games with Gold and is backward compatible with Xbox One and Series X/S.

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