Surf Rocket Racer Hands-On

Surf Rocket Racer combines Jet Ski racing action with trick- and puzzle-oriented gameplay.

Surf Rocket Racer is Crave's foray into the Dreamcast world of high-speed water sports. Taking place across a small but diverse array of courses that ranges from the flooded streets of Venice to Niagara Falls, SRR pits you against human- or computer-controlled opponents in both racing and skills competition. If you feel up to it, you can even take your Jet Ski talents to the next level and attempt some of the game's different puzzle modes.

Surf Rocket Racers allows you to play as one of several distinct characters, each of which has different levels of proficiency in attributes like top speed, handling, acceleration, and grip. The characters are conveniently marked as being for beginning or expert level racers - the ability to go fast and turn on a dime is seemingly reserved only for those who can avoid knocking into things and possibly losing hold of the Jet Ski.

The different levels definitely impart a distinct feel for the area you're racing in. Niagara Falls gives you a nice drop as you go over, and Manhattan has a distinct sewer feel to it. The game's graphics are colorful, but they're somewhat unimpressive in most cases. The water is rather unrealistic, noticeably so during the Nile level. Here, the water doesn't seem to be a mass of liquid so much as a plane of shifting brown matter that conveniently ceases to exist at the edge of the nearby amazon. The turning animations are a bit choppy when making a particularly tight maneuver - the camera takes an abrupt swerve in such situations, which can be a bit disorienting. The racers are visually appealing and distinct, and the puzzle mode courses are graphically simple, easily recognizable, and still challenging.

The music and sound effects fit the mood of the game well. The tracks are upbeat, but not harsh enough to distract from crucial audio elements like the announcer in the Niagara Falls stage. The commentating is appropriate and intelligible, if a bit boring.

The game controls in an extremely simple manner. Like most Dreamcast racers, you use the appropriate analog trigger buttons for the accelerator and the brake. You can control your turning and pitch during jumps with the analog stick, and you can pull off a few tricks like back flips and rolls with sharp movements of the analog stick. A command for striking other racers, for turbo, or for anything else would be appreciated. The simple control would have been appropriate for the game, were the levels more engaging, but as it is, there's a feeling that something's missing.

Perhaps what is lacking most is the sense of speed necessary for an arcade racer to succeed. The turns are always easily manageable and the computer-controlled opponents are predictable. Hopefully by release the game will sport a more competitive AI.

The puzzle modes are well executed in comparison to the sluggish racing modes. The amount of precision required to time your jumps in order to smash balloons, leap through rings, or other such stunts is quite staggering. Keeping your eye on the speed of your vehicle and anticipating the location of moving targets becomes more of a mental exercise than a feat of racing skill. Some of the modes are rather entertaining in their own right - not many titles can (or would) pull off a game of water croquet as interestingly as this.

Still in development, Surf Rocket Racer has shown us an intriguing array of puzzle games, but its racing engine doesn't set it apart from the competition.

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