Wave Race 64 & Blue Storm. That’s my only point of reference for video games with watercraft racing, and I’m sure that’s to be expected when talking about another one on a Nintendo console. Since Vector Unit is behind this title though, it also ended up bringing Beach Buggy Racing to mind since that was their previous entry for the Switch. Is Riptide GP: Renegade a similar case to Beach Buggy, or does it manage to achieve the qualities of Nintendo’s own classic series?
The most important aspect of a jet ski game is the physics I think. Having a race on water, especially choppy water has to be spot on else you could have steering that doesn’t work, or you could be thrown into the air and spend more time crashing than you do racing. Waves also add in some unpredictable factors. All combined it could lead to the racing being a bit of a bust. Thankfully Vector Unit has done a good job getting the balance just right. The controls are tight, meaning you can float, drift and race in a straight line without having to fight too hard against the water, at least no more than you feel you should have to. Even in your first race you’ll be throwing your craft around corners and bouncing over waves as if it was something natural.
The impressive thing about Vector Unit’s games on the Switch is how the team manages to compress them. Riptide GP: Renegade is only 151 MB big, yet has lots of graphical detail and a remarkably smooth framerate. Visual pop-up is a little more noticeable this time around, but it doesn’t distract from the view that much. I also like that the courses differentiate from each other with neat details of their own; one course had ships firing machine guns at the buildings you race by, and certain ones may have the waves bounce for players to take advantage of for airtime.
The music really gets your attention from the beginning with some quality drum and base to entice those audio senses. The sound effects when your hydrojet is thrusting through the water sound good. Pulling of stunts is satisfying and the sound effects which accompany a successful stunt makes you feel great.
Controlling the hydrojets feels nice and tight and they have a pretty nice weight to them. Chucking a hydrojet sharply into the corner and the water will slow you right down so getting those racing lines down is key to being fast. Performing tricks at the right time is a risk versus reward scenario. The stunts you can pull off which in many games feel like an afterthought here add a great deal to the experience. There are lots of tricks you can master and you can unlock more with skill points, the more tricks you have in your arsenal the more fun it is exploring how to activate them.. The fact that the controls are really tight makes it a joy to pull of these tricks. From back flips, front flips and all sorts of variations which can be activated whilst airborne and using the analogue sticks. Use both to pull off more complex variations.
Along with the racing, the other important aspect is the trick system, When you launch off a ramp or a particularly big wave you get the chance to pull off a trick. Tricks are activated by using both analogue sticks in unison. I found this a bit fiddly thanks to the Switch’s right analogue stick being slightly lower than what feels natural so you’re left scrambling for the stick in the short time you have to pull off the stunt. It doesn’t help matters when the input system is somewhat floaty. Up, down, up down on both sticks, it’s quite hard to tell mid-race if your being accurate enough. If you do successfully pull off a trick it will then fill your boost meter giving you a handy spurt of speed when you need it most. You start off with a couple of basic stunts but more complicated tricks can be purchased by winning races and saving up your prize money.
There are a few different race modes to keep things interesting. During your career, you will have to take part in your standard bread and butter races where you race against 7 other racers. Then there are the Slalom races which have you riding between flags against the clock to score points. But arguably the most interesting mode is Elimination. Every 15 seconds the racer who is placed last gets eliminated. It’s tense and fun and is something that breaks up the otherwise by the numbers racing. Conversely, the worst races you will have are in the freestyle mode. Here you are placed on a course and let loose to score as many points as you can using your repertoire of tricks. The trouble is, the trick system, although adequate for most races, is just not intuitive enough when you have to rely on them to progress. Plus some of the courses only have a few opportunities to actually pull off big tricks so it can get quite frustrating quite quick especially as you have to complete them to progress any further.
I’m just going to get the story out the way here since I forgot earlier. Basically, when you start you choose a racer, start a race and then as soon as you’re getting in your stride, you’re set up by a competitor and get sent to jail for a couple of years. Upon release, you decide to get back into the official Hydro Jet GP circuit by, um, by building your name through the illegal racing circuit, the very thing you got arrested for in the first place. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter as the story is only used to get you from one race to the next so it will do but for those of you who want to know here’s the canon; Hydrojet racing in this futuristic setting is illegal. Why it’s illegal though is unexplained. As the protagonist, you accept a challenge from a racer who believes they can beat you. It seems at this stage you are at the top of your game. Of course, the race is accepted and the race begins. Here you learn some of the moves before it’s all over and your arrested by the cops only to go down for 2 years. You start the game proper making a comeback as a rookie taking up races to build back up to the big leagues in the career mode.
While the game does nothing original or unique in the genre it doesn't matter. If your after a traditional arcade racer to satisfy your racing urges then look no further. For $10 you are getting a game which is full of polish and overall is fun. This has an online mode to race against others and locally you can race with up to 4 players splitcreen. There is a great little career mode which feels satisfying. This is another tidy Indie game to add to the already vast Switch library and one which is easy to recommend at this price. (https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/riptide-gp-renegade-switch)