The original Splashdown got quite a bit of attention when it was released in 2001. The game's impressive graphics and water physics, coupled with its accessible gameplay, gave the burgeoning franchise a promising start. A subsequent Xbox version featured some solid refinements to the formula that reflected developer Rainbow Studios' desire to perfect its work. For the follow-up, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild, Rainbow took some key elements from the first game and then headed off in a very different direction that looks very promising.
While the original Splashdown featured a very distinct, detailed look that was grounded in real-world locations, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild tosses realism out the door in favor of brighter, more-dynamic locales and more-involved gameplay. You'll find the same assortment of gameplay modes (training, career, arcade, and versus), along with a new warehouse option. The game's training mode is a collection of tutorials that will familiarize you with the gameplay mechanics. You'll be guided by one of the characters in the game, who'll show you everything from the basics of controlling your Sea-Doo to how to pull off the various tricks in the game. The career mode is a standard series of competitions that you'll progress through by performing well. The arcade mode is a basic collection of races that you'll be able to hop into when you don't feel like hassling with the stress of a career. The versus mode lets you take on a friend in split-screen races. Finally, the warehouse option is your one-stop shopping place when you want to open up new content in the game. Whereas the original Splashdown required you to unlock new content by placing well in certain races, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is a little more generous and lets you purchase unlockables using the points you earn in your races. You'll be able to purchase wet suits, secret characters, world courses, stadium courses, freestyle courses, tech time courses, ending videos, and some miscellaneous goods.
While the series' modes have obviously been tweaked, the bulk of Rainbow's work has actually been focused on Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild's gameplay. The core racing mechanics are still the same--you'll race through a series of courses against an assortment of opponents, passing buoys and performing tricks to build up your performance meter, which will enhance your Sea-Doo's abilities. However, there have been some notable changes, all of which appear to be for the better. The biggest changes can be found in the game's trick system and wave physics. You'll now have three tiers of tricks that can be chained together for impressive combos and tasty performance-meter bonuses. The core trick mechanics are roughly the same--you'll still perform them by holding down the L1, R1, and R2 buttons and pressing a direction on the analog stick--but they feature more-intricate inputs for the higher-level tricks. The ability to chain the various tiers of tricks together provides quite a bit of depth to explore. The wave physics in the game feature a great deal more variety. You'll notice different types of waves and distinct water currents that add a new dynamic to races. The good news is that the dynamic waves offer more opportunities for catching air and performing tricks. The bad news is that if you get too greedy or sloppy in your racing, you can plan on falling behind pretty quickly. In addition, fans of the original game will be pleased to see some refinements in other areas of the gameplay. For example, if you don't land a trick properly, you'll only lose speed, instead of falling off your vehicle. Thankfully, the game's tight controls make navigating the challenging waters completely doable. Rainbow has even gone the extra mile and offered two distinct control styles--one that is true to the more-realistic feel of the original game, and one that is slightly more forgiving.
The series' graphics have seen considerable improvement as well. The real-world environments of the original game have been dumped in favor of brighter, more-dynamic locales that change with every lap. The best example of the game's new look can be seen in the first race. It starts simply enough, with you and your competitors starting out on a brightly colored but slightly generic course with faux island music playing in the background. Shortly after the race's start, a bright flash obscures the screen and distorts the HUD. When your view clears up, the entire course has changed into an insane storm-filled ocean with lighting flaring around you and debris flying everywhere. You'll find new obstacles and even new paths as you make your way through every lap. At the end of the race, the track innocently morphs back into its original state. Every outdoor track in the game features some sort of insanity along those lines, which makes for a visually interesting experience that will keep you on your toes. The detailed levels feature a generous polygon count that nicely complements the inventive and whimsical design. The other courses in the game, while not quite as insane, are visually interesting in their own way, thanks to impressive track layouts and background detail. As far as the water goes, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild improves some on the striking work it did in the original game and churns out detailed, dynamic water that looks great. Finally, you'll notice a greater focus on the series' characters, who now sport a more-stylized design and a bit more personality.
The audio is shaping up nicely and complements the action well. You'll hear a nice assortment of stirring tunes that suit the various locales. For example, the pirate level features a catchy nautical tune, while the dinosaur level features an homage to the music from Jurassic Park. The ample voice acting in the game also adds to the experience. Finally, the game's sound effects are a satisfying collection of sounds that keep the audio from being boring.
Based on what we've played so far, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is shaping up pretty well. The change in style has opened up the gameplay considerably, allowing for quite a bit more variety. The new approach to the visuals, besides offering plenty to appreciate as you play, makes the game almost as much fun to watch as to play. Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is currently slated to ship this August for the PlayStation 2. Fans of the original and anyone looking for a fun racer will want to keep an eye out for it.