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Score: 8.2 / 10
Every living thing on the planet has one
thing in common: water. Good old H2O binds this crazy world together.
Everyone needs it, everyone wants it and some like to ride pell-mell on
it riding a crazy Canadian invention called a Sea-Doo (a relative of the
Ski-Doo – also known as the snowmobile). As far as anyone can tell,
Sea-Doo’s have no practical purpose other than scaring wildlife and
annoying lakeside cabin owners, so it seems the perfect fit to the world
Splashdown, using the Sea-Doo license, allows players to race these
aquatic demons through a number of tracks across several countries, all
the while performing larger than life stunts. It’s a fun ride but watch
out for frustration.
Part of the frustration stems from the inability to modify your racers
stats. If you pick a speedy character that has poor handling at the
outset there is no way to improve your handling ability. I’ve got a
question: Why? With the groundwork
clearly laid by extreme sports such as SSX
Tricky, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, etc. why make the stats untouchable?
Part of the reason must be the deftly incorporated trick system.
Each successful trick rewards your racer with a small efficiency boost,
which allows you to go just a little bit faster. (It doesn’t affect
handling though.) Perform enough tricks and your boost meter fills up to
give you even more of a speed advantage. This makes it essential to
perform tricks whenever possible, because if you don’t you’ll finish
dead last every time. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll take
shortcuts.” No, you won’t. Splashdown has extremely punitive
restrictions to make sure you’re on the course at all times. Plus, there
are pylons to pass by that if missed subtract a huge amount of built up
boost and stall your engine for a second. So thinking you can leap into
1st place by crunching over-land to avoid a difficult “S” turn will
simply result in being sent back to where you were before the turn.
There are two sides to this situation. The first is that it’s more
lifelike – taking shortcuts in real life races just isn’t allowed.
When’s the last time you saw an Indy car duck by the concession stand to
cross the finish line? The other side argues that for fun factor and
strategy, short cuts should be allowed. Splashdown goes the way of
“realism" but I didn't mind it because everyone else faces this same
Tricks are incredibly easy to execute and in no way are they realistic.
(Regardless they still have a disclaimer for the brain-dead morons that
would attempt to actually perform the stunts.) There are more advanced
tricks to perform, which should only be attempted during Free Ride mode
until you’ve mastered them. Each racer has a signature move, too.
Graphics and control are good. Performing tricks is smooth as… no, I
won’t say butter, but it is smooth both graphically and responsively.
The wave physics are pretty good – courses that extend into open water
have heavy wave action to contend with – but remember this is a
videogame. Environs are varied. You’ll race through swamps, industrial
waterfronts, and even in stadium water courses where you go head-to-head
against a CPU player in order to add them to your roster of possible
racers that can be chosen in other head-to-head challenges. Getting a
handle on each course takes a few run-throughs to be sure. (During
Career Mode take advantage of the optional qualification stage.) Coming
to grips with the way your Sea-Doo handles takes about an hour of
playtime, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment.
What does sometimes take away from the enjoyment is the punishing
computer AI racers. They are a competitive bunch (as well as mouthy) and
screw up twice during a race and you might as well restart. Bailing
once, you might be able to recover fast enough to stay in the lead, but
more often you drop to the back of pack. Which is not to say the
computer AI is flawless – they screw up too, sometimes in a spectacular
manor with their Sea-Doo going one way and them another. No explosions,
but it is fun to be sitting in 3rd Place watching 2nd Place slam into a
buoy marker and cartwheel into the water. Even when you have the courses
mastered and you’re going like stink, the computer AI stills provides a
Keeping with tradition of real-life music tracks, Splashdown sports a
good roster of artists, including Blink 182 and Smash Mouth providing
appropriate tunes. (I know “All Star” probably makes some people’s ears
bleed, but I love the song so I didn’t mind.) If you don’t want the
default tunes, you can easily select your own. Plus, you can skip songs
that you don’t like during play.
There aren’t a lot of extras to unlock or find. There are a variety of
wetsuit designs to collect (by finding them during the course of a race)
but the main emphasis is on racing through the 20 tracks. I didn’t mind
the lacks of extras.
Splashdown is a solid racer with good graphics and control, a
well-integrated trick system, and provides a challenge. There are some
downsides – lack of shortcuts, no stat modification, occasional
frustrating AI – but they aren’t enough to sink the experience.