Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Aqua Moto Racing Utopia (PS4, PC) Review

Some games come by that you don't expect much out of, and then they blow you away. Zordix's Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is one of those. I expected a wholehearted effort that didn't have the same highs as my favorite waterborne racer, Wave Race 64. Fortunately, I am happy that my expectations were dead wrong. See how with the SuperPhillip Central review.

These waters are anything but choppy.

If you're like me (and God help you if you are), then you no doubt have a soft spot for Nintendo's Wave Race series, specifically the Nintendo 64 and GameCube versions, with a greater focus on the former. Since Nintendo continues to keep the franchise on hiatus, gamers like myself have yearned for some kind of experience that mirrors and feels like Wave Race. Perhaps it's a bit cliche to compare every jet ski racer to Wave Race, but the game for me is the gold standard when it comes to water racing games with superb wave physics.

The Aqua Moto Racing franchise has seen releases on iOS and Nintendo 3DS with varying degrees of success. Now, Zordix brings us the latest entry in the franchise, this time on PlayStation 4, PC, and sooner or later (unless the version gets cancelled) the Wii U. It's Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, and while the entry price ($29,99 USD) might seem high, trust me when I say that for the most part, it's worth it.

Aqua Moto Racing Utopia features a wide variety of modes to dive right into. First, however, you create your rider through a series of somewhat limited choices. I didn't particularly find the faces too attractive, so I just put a helmet over my rider. Then again, it's not like you're staring at your rider's face ever while racing anyway! After picking a nationality, a name, a face, an outfit, and a color scheme, you're good to go in your Aqua Moto Racing Utopia career.

The main mode is the Championship, which comes in three varieties: one with heavy crafts, one with lighter and more mobile jet skis, and a trick-based championship. Each championship type has multiple cups to take on, each unlocking once the one before it has been completed. These race-centric championships generally have 3-5 races each. A great thing about the championships is that you just need to get place third overall to unlock the next championship. A further bonus is that you can restart a race without having to restart the cup. This means that messing up at a critical moment in a race won't cost you the entire cup. And you WILL mess up occasionally, either through human error or the AI pushing you off course.

Championship Mode pits you against seven other racers across multiple difficulties and multiple cups.
Races have you going along a track, passing by each colored buoy in order. You pass yellow buoys on the left and red buoys on the right. If you miss three buoys in a race, you're disqualified from the competition. Some races feature wide, breezy turns while others really force you to master tight cornering as you almost move from buoy to buoy like a slalom racer. Though there is a green arrow that points in the direction of the next buoy you need to pass, an extremely helpful map in the bottom left corner of the screen shows a zoomed in look at the track. This greatly assists in seeing where you're supposed to go (as many tracks are set in open waters), where red and yellow buoys are on the track, and where opponents are.

Nothing like racing through alligator-infested waters to really prove your mettle as a daredevil.
Depending on how closely you pass a buoy, you gain a portion of energy in your boost meter. Once it fills, you can press the X button to speed forward. Knowing when to boost and when to race conservatively can be the difference between a first-place win and an embarrassing off-podium defeat. Besides passing buoys to fill your boost meter, you can also perform tricks either on the water or in the air. The more complicated the trick, the greater your meter fills. Tricks involve the right stick and maneuvering it in various directions. While jumping off a ramp or a particularly huge wave, you can also hold down the left shoulder button to perform fast spins, flips, and even barrel rolls in conjunction with right stick tricks to gain an even bigger boost, as well as high scores in Freestyle competitions.

Look, Ma! No hands!
There are ten locales in Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, and these span various types of environments and feature different challenges and wave types. While the tropical paradise venue features calm waves, the oil rig showcases huge waves for serious air and trick potential. Other locales include arenas, stadiums, alligator-infested swamp lands, jungles, Asian cities, piers, and more. Each locale is an expansive area that in Leisure Mode, can be freely explored to your heart's content. Additionally, each locale possesses three to five different races in it, all containing different buoy placements, and all cordoning off specific sections of the venue to keep you on the right path.

Some races feature tighter corridors than others, such as racing through these narrow canals.
As you win championships, you earn money to be used to purchase new watercraft, and as you gain new ranks, new craft are able to be purchased. So, even if you're winding up off the podium at the end of a championship, you're still making money and progress to purchase better and improved watercraft.

Outside of the Championship modes, there are Time Trials for every race in the game, which challenge you to really get a grip on each course, knowing the ins and outs, when to boost, when to take it easy, and when and where to find time-saving shortcuts. Some of the gold medal times are seriously difficult, and it's quite the accomplishment to earn a gold medal on all of the races. In addition to Time Trials, there are Freestyle events for each venue which task you with performing different tricks for points to try to earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on your ending score. Finally, four-player splitscreen is included as well as online multiplayer. However, the latter, at least on the PlayStation 4, is a ghost town.

The wave physics of Aqua Moto Racing Utopia work wonderfully well. Seldom does your craft ever unexpectedly take a wave in an odd way or angle. Some environmental obstacles can cause your craft to act strangely, but these incidents are so unusual that they aren't really a worry. Though, I will say that those damned alligators have made me crash more times than I would have liked!

Take turns more sharply and easily by holding the L2 button.
Aqua Moto Racing Utopia's racing controls seem almost, if not as close as those in Wave Race 64... or at least the GameCube's Blue Storm. Each watercraft feels like it has enough heft to it, but not too much heft, and turning feels delightfully natural. You can hold the L2 button while riding around turns to turn more sharply, great for buoys that are close by in a zigzag pattern and tight corners. As I said earlier, tricks are performed with using the right stick, holding it in one direction to perform a trick. You can also do various more involved tricks by flicking the right stick in one direction and then holding it in the other. Tricks can be performed on water, like your rider sitting on the handlebars of his or her watercraft, or in the air, like flips and spins. The main takeaway here is that many racers can be seriously frustrating with poor physics and poor controls. Aqua Moto Racing Utopia avoids this with natural physics and satisfying controls.

All right, Vincenzo Drago. I think you've taken up enough of my screen's real estate. Time to eat my waves.
If you've been searching for a jet ski/watercraft racer that brings back memories of Wave Race 64, or if you're just looking for a stellar racer in general with plenty of challenge (but seldom unfair challenge), then Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is a game you should seriously consider purchasing. The amount of races is astounding, learning the ins and outs of said races is enjoyable, the AI is usually a good test for one's skill without resorting to rubber-banding, and the ability to play splitscreen multiplayer is fantastic to see. The high price point and empty online are things to consider, but overall, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is a winner and earns a place on the podium.

[SPC Says: B+]

Review code provided by Zordix.

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