Xbox owners looking for a racing game that plays and looks great would do well to pick up Splashdown.
Splashdown for the Xbox is a wave-runner racing game with some really great water effects. While the original PlayStation 2 version was praised for its gameplay mechanics and all-around solid presentation, the game lacked any sort of serious wave dynamics, which made it seem more like a traditional racing game as opposed to one that takes place on water. Splashdown for the Xbox still retains this issue in a large portion of its courses, but you'll find that the two courses created specifically for the Xbox version of the game are vastly superior, featuring realistic waves that would make any die-hard Wave Race fan jealous.
The new levels are so impressive that you'll wish that Rainbow Studios had enough time to go back through the original courses in the game and introduce similar improvements. But you'll still be impressed by the fact that the overall quality of the graphics has improved. The frame rate runs at a brisk pace, the lighting is more pronounced, and just about everything looks smoother, which helps give the already impressive water an even more natural look. If all that isn't enough, Splashdown for the Xbox also gives you the ability to rip your own soundtrack of the game so that you aren't stuck listening to songs that were popular on the radio several months ago.
Splashdown has a variety of driving methods and techniques that can impact the outcome of any race. Pulling back on the analog stick while approaching top speed causes the craft to hydroplane across the water, decreasing the amount of water resistance and giving you a slight boost in speed. However, hydroplaning before the wave runner reaches optimal speeds can have a detrimental effect on your race performance, and such an action usually results in your craft losing speed. As rare as they might be, waves can be particularly problematic for racers who use hydroplaning because the waves will lift you into the air, reducing your speed.
Even basic actions, like turning, offer alternative strategies. When going into a turn around a wall or a buoy, you must decide whether or not you want to make a sharp cut by pressing diagonally on the analog stick--or you can simply perform a basic turn. Consistent use of the sharp-turning function can shave a few seconds off your final lap time, whereas a basic turn doesn't really help or hurt your chances of a great finish. The catch with making proper sharp turns is that it can take a little time before you can execute them properly, so you're better off practicing this technique in one of Splashdown's other modes.
Splashdown's trick system serves a similar purpose by offering similar risks as other methods for winning a race. Whenever you perform a trick in Splashdown--which usually involves a ramp--a small meter located to the right of your speed gauge will slowly fill. As the meter reaches capacity, the overall performance of your wave runner increases, giving a possible advantage over the other competitors. Basic tricks like can-cans or kicks fill the meter in small segments, but the more difficult tricks, like the handlebar foot grab, will fill it much quicker--although you run the risk of losing control of the wave runner with the complex tricks. If you need a quick boost and there aren't any ramps in sight (as unlikely as that is), you can do a quick invert trick that involves dipping under the water and then launching into the air, allowing you to perform a backflip. Unfortunately, you can lose a lot of speed performing this maneuver, so the benefits don't necessarily justify it. Overall, the trick system is easy to use and is a nice touch. It requires you to press only one of three trick buttons and a direction on the analog stick, and since it plays such an important role in the game, this nearly effortless trick system is certainly welcomed.
While Splashdown's mechanics are sound, you can't help but be disappointed by the fact that these mechanics would have been put to better use had the development team incorporated more waves and more dynamic water physics into the original courses. Of course, many of the environments in Splashdown are fresh water areas, which are generally not known for having enormous waves, but even on the oceanside courses, waves are a rare sight. And the few sets of waves that are in the original courses seem pathetic at attempting to demonstrate that this particular engine is capable of calculating waves, as they seem almost out of place or unnatural in their positioning on the course. Perhaps leaving the waves out of the original courses altogether would have been a better course of action.