Wave Race 64

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: November 5 1996
Regions: NA, PAL, JP
Genre: Racing
Multiplayer: 1-2 players
Cart Size: 8MB / 64Mb
Saving: On-Cart, Controller Pak
Rumble Pak?: Yes
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No
With endorsement from Kawasaki... Only to be removed years later on the Wii Virtual Console.

A simple idea, a simple game... One that would end up becoming one of the most memorable and cherished games on the N64. That game, is Wave Race 64. Back when it came out in 1996, its impressive graphics, stellar music and excellent presentation wowed everyone and is still a groundbreaking game to this day. Wave Race is also not a half-bad game either.

Wave Race doesn't stray too far from the beaten path of racing games, despite its water ski theme. Every track is a closed circuit with colorful buoys that one must zig zag through in order to properly finish a race. Each racer must pass each buoy correctly, such as on the left or right side, or you get a miss. If you get 5 misses in a row, you lose the race. Getting a miss also depletes your power up bar, which increases with every buoy you pass correctly. A total of 9 courses are available. It may sound like a small number, but many of the tracks are very different from each other. There are no powerups, no ridiculously impossible jumps or kooky characters. Wave Race strives for realism, which it does well. To spice things up though, stunts and tricks can be performed. These are pretty rudimentary however, especially compared to future games like the SSX series. Pulling off a sweet aerial move won't really help much in a race, but there is a game mode specific to stunts, so it all evens out.

From the main menu, Championship, Time Trials, Stunt Mode, 2P VS. and Options are selectable. Championship is basically the main single player mode of the game, although one could argue the Stunt Mode has just as much, if not more, replay value. Time Trials is self-explanatory, so is 2P VS. to an extent (it's short for Two Player Versus). The Options mode is actually not very basic, it offers some nice features like a Controller Pak management screen (not many games bother to include this in-game), a sound test, a conditions screen for waves, misses and laps adjustment and even an option to change the names of the four drivers, which is adds a nice touch of personalization.

Quite easily Wave Race 64's greatest claim to fame and most memorable feature, is the graphics. For an early N64 release (December 1996), it's an incredibly realistic and beautiful game for its time. The most apparent attraction is the water and the accompanying physics. To say the least, both are astounding. The waves roll in with remarkable realism and the physical interaction with the Jet Skis is reasonably life like. Overall, the visual representation is great. Wave Race 64 holds that same classic Nintendo quality, even if it isn't a mascot racing game.

The music represents the other half of why Wave Race 64 became such a memorable game. The musical composition and instrumentation is absolutely excellent. The melody instrument in a number of the tracks songs resembles a saxophone, giving the game a jazzy, laid back feel. Each track has its own beat and feel to it, but they all run under the same unified banner, which adds to the Nintendo quality of the game. There's even some voice acting in the game, most notably an announcer. Each of the four riders also have some voice clips, like when you wipeout or win a race. There isn't a whole lot of it, but what there is sounds pretty good and isn't grating. The JetSki engine sounds are fortunately quite varied and aren't very irritating.

What matters the most in any game however, is the gameplay. Is Wave Race 64 a good game? Why yes, it is. The first major aspect to touch on, is the physics. In this game specifically, the physics of the water and how your JetSki reacts to it is incredibly crucial. Fortunately, Nintendo put a lot of care and attention into making sure the JetSki handles turns smoothly and can even hit a big wave and catch some air. I myself have never driven a real JetSki, but from what I know on the subject, I think Wave Race 64 is a fairly accurate representation.

Another remarkable touch to the game, is your rider can be knocked off the JetSki if you hit a hard object or turn too sharp. But, you don't just simply fall off. If you take a light bump, you'll be immobilized for a second or two while your rider gets back on his/her feet. Take a harder spill and your rider's feet will be left dragging in the water, which takes more time to recover from. Lastly, take big smack against something and your rider will be completely knocked off and will climb out of the water, onto the JetSki. At times this realism can get in the way of the racing itself, but it certainly adds a unique challenge that wasn't too commonly found in late 1996.

Although, at its core, Wave Race 64 can be considered fairly simplistic, even with it's stunt mode, the presentation, physics, graphics and sound really make the game an outstanding experience. The Championship mode provides the main attraction, with the Stunt and 2P VS. modes rounding out the game nicely. It may not be as memorable for its multiplayer mode as Mario Kart 64, or even for its straight single race gameplay, but you will find that Wave Race 64 is most memorable when the whole picture is taken into account. On top of all that, the game has aged pretty well and is still easy to play. It's also not very expensive on cartridge and is available on the Wii Virtual Console. This is an N64 game everyone should play.

Presentation: 9.0
The production values here are just what you'd expect from Nintendo - top notch. From the menus, to the sound effects, to even how the game plays, Wave Race 64 is a well polished game.

Graphics: 9.0
For such an early release, Wave Race 64 is no slouch in the visual department. The colors are bright and lush, the lighting is great, the water has a realistic sheen and every track has a distinct atmosphere.

Sound: 8.5
The sound is also very good, though a bit more variety would have been nice. Still, most of the tracks are terribly catchy and have wonderful instrumentation. The whole game channels the feeling of paradise in the tropics, without a care in the world while you cruise on a JetSki.

Gameplay: 8.5
For the most part, the gameplay is good. The JetSki controls well and the physics are spectacular. The championship mode is decent, but it can become a bit tiresome. The stunt mode offers nice replay value, as does the 2 player mode.

Lasting Appeal: 7.5
This is where the game kind of staggers a bit. If you're not a fan of the stunt mode or don't have a friend to play with, Wave Race 64 can be a bit meager in replay value.

Overall: 8.5

Written by Aaron Wilcott
September 16 2012