What: Wave Race 64 (official title: "Wave Race 64 Kawasaki Jet Ski," but who has time to say all of that?) - a well known racing game for the Nintendo 64. Wave Race 64 was originally intended to be a sequel to F-Zero. The real, later-made F-Zero sequel would be F-Zero X. There was a sequel made for Wave Race 64, and that would be Wave Race: Blue Storm, but for the GameCube. Wave Race is also the title of a GameBoy game released prior to this one.

Who: Nintendo created Wave Race 64, it's engine, the graphics, and everything else. As this was originally an internal F-Zero franchise game, all rights and credit go to Nintendo, even for the early work.

When: Released in North America on October 31, 1996. This was one of the first few titles available for the Nintendo 64 on it's release date (alongside such titles as Super Mario 64), helping to make it one of the best selling games in Nintendo history (it's definately in the top 20, selling over a million copies).

Why: The F-Zero franchise needed a sequel that would fully utilize Nintendo 64's graphical and CPU capabilites, so that a "flashy and exciting" title could be made for the launch of the console. Halfway through development of the famous "Big Blue" landscape (seen in F-Zero GX, for one), the design team discovered that a malleable "soft surface" was capable and that an entire game could be based on an easily modified copy of this very effect. By swapping ship graphics for jet-ski graphics, a very rough playable demo was slapped together in less than a week.

At the time, there were no Jet-Ski or other water racing games on the market, and "yet another space racer" was doomed to likely make less money than this brand-new exciting game. Marketing got a hold of the idea, tossed it around for a bit, and Nintendo finally decided to make the swap. F-Zero X for the N64 would have to wait for market conditions to be right, and Wave Race was set to take the stage as the first game to ever showcase amazing reactive water effects.

Details: Wave Race 64 is like many other racing simulations, where you have a third-person perspective of your racer as he rides the waves in his Kawasaki-brand Jet-ski. It features the standard practice, time trial, and tournament (cup) modes, as well as a nice two-player split-screen mode where you can face off with your friends. The biggest change from the standard racing games, however, is the Stunt Mode. I never really liked Stunt Mode myself, but it was a big hit with a lot of the people in this world, and the reaction of this feature directly spawned games like BMX TrickStyle and other stunt-oriented racing games.

Multiplayer is usually what I enjoy, so I spent a lot of time with that mode. The biggest drawback is that once you complete a few laps, the game ends - so my friends and I developed our own little game. If you race backwards on the track, you have up to 9 minutes and 59 seconds (before the clock maxes out) and can make as many laps as you want - playing such games as TAG. Simply hit the other racer, scream "YOU'RE IT," and run away. Since hitting the other racer usually knocks him off the jet-ski and you have to wait a few seconds to get back on, you get a nice little head start! I'm sure you can develop your own games, as well.

The only major complaint I have about this game is the announcer. As fun as it is hearing him say "Ooookay! That's okay! Alllright! YOU GOT IT," it gets old after a while. It became so repetitive, that even today in 2003 (six years later!) my friends and I say "that's ok!" in the cheezy announcer's voice anytime something goes a little bit awry in a racing game.

The graphics for the game are pretty nice, especially considering the older console and the 1996 date. I would be hard pressed to find a game with a similarly beautiful fluid model and lighting effects. The polygon count is a little low compared to today's standards - but I would say it's very similar to the graphics of F-Zero GX (I know someone's going to argue with me here, but c'mon - the graphics are GREAT!).

Wave Race 64 is also the first game to use "soft surface" technology - that is to say, a malleable, deformable part of the landscape. The entire ocean in Wave Race 64 was one giant malleable soft surface, with the terrain (such as the ocean bottom, piers, and the land) were all solid objects. Why was this so special? Well, because the surface was "soft" it was amazing to look at, when it was still or when you were racing. There was very few "scripted" animations - it actually was a living, rolling, three-dimensional surface. The programmers could easily turn up the waves (indeed, wave height is an option you can set for practice racing), or even raise or lower the level of the water itself (to simulate high tide and low tide, for example). While you race across the water, your jetski actually reacts to the surface as well as deforming it. Anyone who played the classic PC Game Scorched Earth or Worms knows that deformable landscapes make gameplay a hell of a lot more fun - now all we need is for someone to take that one step further, and make every surface in the game "soft." In any case, Wave Race 64 was the pioneer of this technology and they did a nice bang-up job of it, too.

Cheats: The game has a few exploits and a few secrets too; the exploits are hard to find unless you look specifically for them, and it's always more fun to find the secrets on your own.

But if you really really wanna cheat, I'll toss you a few.

One of the most commonly used exploits is the cheap Stunt Mode cheat. You can drive your Jet-Ski onto the sand while doing a stunt, and you will be able to continue doing stunts across the sand - never falling over. This is because of a bug in the game engine, where it thinks "since he's off the water, he must be in the air" and the "you can now do stunts" code is enabled. It is easy to rack up hundreds of points just by sitting on the sand and doing hand stands over and over again. It sometimes takes a few tries to get it to "catch," but once it does you can easily rack up "impossible" high scores in Stunt mode, making your friend's jaws hang agape.

The oft-requested and semi-secret (unpublished) stunt, the "helicopter spin," is accomplished by doing a sharp turn by pressing up-left or up-right, then holding DOWN after becoming airborn.

My Opinion: This game is excellent; it isn't one of those "this racer is great because it goes SUPER FAST" games, and it isn't one of those "this racer is great because it has licensed cars" games, but instead it carves out it's own niche in the market. I would go out and buy the N64 right now, just to buy this game, Super Mario 64, and Goldeneye. It's well worth your time and worth every penny.

Some people find the control scheme hard to get used to; you can adjust it with the racer's profile, until you find something more to your liking. But there is the odd person who just can't get the hang of controlling a watercraft - in which case, I recommend renting first.

4 out of 4 stars.

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