Sony's first-party offerings in the always-fun water sports genre have been pretty thin since the PlayStation's heyday. Since the Jet Moto series went AWOL, there hasn't been much on the first-party side of things to satisfy fans of the watercraft racing genre. Fortunately the drought is about to end soon, thanks to developer Killer Games (best known for NHL FaceOff '97, NCAA GameBreaker, and NBA ShootOut) and its upcoming water racing title, Jet X20. First shown off at E3 this year, the game is a promising arcade-style racer that mixes equal parts Wave Race and SSX Tricky. We had a chance to check out a previewable build of the game to see how it's shaping up, and we've come away pleased by what we've seen.
Jet X20 follows the same basic structure as just about any racing game these days. You'll take one of eight suitably eccentric riders through the game's various modes. There were three modes to choose from in our build of the game: single event, world tour, and big wave. Single event lets you try one of three game types--trick and time, trick only, or time only--alone or with a friend in split-screen play. Basically you'll have to try to get the highest trick score during a run, make it through a course in the allotted time, or manage to do both at once. World tour is a career-style mode that spans a season of competitions spread through eight environments around the world. As you progress through the mode, you'll unlock more riders and courses in the game. Big wave is a training course that will help you get a feel for the game's handling.
You'll find that being competitive in your races will require more than just mastery of the game's user-friendly control scheme. You'll steer your watercraft with the left analog stick and accelerate with the X button. The square button will engage your watercraft's boost, and the triangle button will serve as a trick modifier. You'll perform tricks by pressing one of the four shoulder buttons in conjunction with a direction on the D-pad while in the air. You'll be able to rack up serious points by chaining together a series of tricks or by holding a trick for as long as you can before you land. Performing tricks also has the added benefit of filling your boost meter, which is an invaluable tool for shooting to the front of the pack. While the control setup and stunt system are both easy to pick up, the real challenge lies in the game's water physics. The water current will be as big of a challenge as your opponents as you try to take and hold first place in a race. Every body of water you race on will have its own unique quirks associated with the current running through it. It's pretty clear, sometimes painfully so, that you'll have to be mindful of the current or kiss any hopes of a first-place victory good-bye. For example, narrow stretches of the track feature wickedly fast current that will offer a boost of speed and a marked decrease in your craft's handling, while the more expansive areas of the courses will feature the wakes kicked up by your opponents' vehicles.
Jet X20's graphics and sound are a solid combination that help give the game some personality. The environments are massive and feature multiple routes to take you on your way to the finish line. You'll find eight different courses to go through: canyon, arctic, jungle, Atlantis, Hawaii, city, lake, and swamp. Each course features a good mix of open areas, tight straightaways, and gut-wrenching jumps to test your racing skills. The various rider models are well done and match the riders' unique personalities, which range from totally demented to mellow. The riders are detailed, and their animations are pretty when they perform tricks. However, the real star of the show is the water in the game, which looks good and moves fluidly, no pun intended.
From what we've played so far, Jet X20 is looking quite promising. The gameplay is solid, and the graphics are good. The game offers multiple routes through each course and various types of water current, which make for a meaty challenge that should please racing fans. Jet X20 ships later this month for the PlayStation 2.