Driving in real life can be a mundane chore. It’s something we do every day to get from point A to point B while dodging fellow drivers and pedestrians. Not to mention the fun time of dealing with these wonderful things called “traffic lights” that seem to be programmed only to turn red when you are running late for something. But that is part of the appeal of racing games. All those distractions disappear and you are free to push the tach to the redline, dive deep into the corner, hold the line and then gas it out as you push your virtual vehicle to limits that would surely leave your real life vehicle screaming for mercy and puking out oil on the side of the road. The simple joy of getting to play with cars in a way you don’t get to in real life is one of the things that make racing games so enjoyable.
Hydro Thunder was part of the three part “Thunder” series, and is accompanied by Offroad Thunder and Arctic Thunder. The cab itself looked basically new, with very little wear for its age, which told me that very few people actually played on this particular machine. I did miss the cool fans that Midway outfitted onto Arctic Thunder, and instead I got a row of speakers that loudly announced that I had inserted a quarter. Thank you Hydro Thunder, I hadn’t noticed. I also didn’t get the “would be useful in just about every racing game” rumble seat that Hannley got, but rather the standard hard plastic mock racing chair seat. The one major difference between this machine and a standard car racer was the modified throttle built to mimic that of a race boat placed high up on the right side of the “dashboard” where typically a car racer would place a gear shift knob. Sweet.
The graphics aren’t actually too bad considering the age of the game. The environments are a little lackluster, with the textures on the surrounding physical structures being the dead giveaway to the fact that the game is quite aged. But the boats themselves manage to look pretty good with bright colorful textures that are crisp enough to be able to withstand close up camera shots. The entire package, despite the somewhat poorly textured surroundings, manages to pull off an almost timeless look that should be tolerable enough even for gamers who are spoiled by the high graphical fidelity of modern games.
The gameplay and mechanics are exactly what you would expect from an arcade racer. After inserting your coins you are immediately thrown into a track selection screen with a timer counting down pressuring you to make a selection as quickly as possible. There are three levels of difficulty: easy, medium and hard, and each difficulty level has three tracks. The boats are also grouped by difficulty level, and again with three boats per difficulty level. The controls were tight and intuitive which is a requirement because of the speed at which this game plays. The tracks throw enough at you to keep your interest, with varied environments that range from arctic glacial tracks to Greek islands, to canyon rivers. Random ramps about the width of your boat are scattered around the tracks, with boost fuel at the apex as a reward for properly navigating over them. As boost is depleted rather quickly, being able to continually gather canisters will be key to your success.
Hydro Thunder, while certainly aged, brings back all that was fun and memorable about arcade racers. Tight controls, fast paced action and a difficulty level meant to draw quarters out of all but the most seasoned arcade racer veteran are all present in this timeless package. So should you find yourself face to face with one of these machines definitely consider giving it a shot; you’ll have a good time, even if it is for only one race.