Splashdown is a good racing game that--with a few tweaks-- could have easily been one of the greatest.
Regardless of whether or not it's warranted, comparisons will always be drawn between the Wave Race series and successive water-based racing games since, to this date, very few games have successfully replicated Wave Race's excellent wave physics. Rainbow Studios' Splashdown doesn't compare favorably in such a scenario because it lacks any substantial wave dynamic--which is suitably disappointing when taking into account the location of some courses in the game. But to dismiss this game based solely on its lack of surf would be undeserved--Splashdown's driving mechanics still excel beyond those found in similar games, and the interaction between the wave runner and the water is still done well.
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, as such an action usually results in your craft losing speed. As rare as they may 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 use 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. However, 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 once again, 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 quickly dipping under the water and then launching into the air, allowing you to perform a back flip. 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--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've been put to better use had the development team incorporated more waves and more dynamic water physics into each course, but at the same time, that disappointment seems almost unfounded. Many of the courses in Splashdown are fresh water areas, which are generally not known for having enormous waves. Even on the oceanside courses, most of the action takes place close to land where large waves wouldn't normally be found. The few sets of waves that are in the game 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 altogether would've been a better course of action.