In 1999, Midway released one of their most classic arcade games, Hydro Thunder. It was a fast-paced and adrenaline-fuelled racer that put itself apart from others in one crucial way – it was set on the water. Players blasted their way to the finish lines not in sports cars, but in rocket-powered speedboats. It was an instant hit, and was promptly released on many home consoles for years to come. You would be hard pressed to find a major console, in the ten years after its release, that it was not ported to. Everything from the Nintendo 64 to the original Xbox got a taste.
It reached far beyond its original release; the kind of experience that transcends hardware capability. This is very gameplay-focused, it stays engaging and fun no matter how dated it may look. However after a certain point, many fans began to wonder whether a follow-up for Hydro Thunder would ever be released. There had been other titles in the “Thunder” series, involving other vehicles, however not a proper sequel.
In 2010 that sequel finally came, in the form of Hydro Thunder Hurricane. Released for the Xbox 360 Arcade and then later on Windows. This was not a remake or remaster, but a fully fledged new title. Containing a multitude of new tracks and boats, the calls for a sequel were finally answered and the wait was worth it. Hurricane was simply better than its predecessor in every way, and that’s coming off an already solid foundation.
Hurricane had a collection of entirely new tracks that followed the series trademark of being completely off the wall and insane. Featuring everything from stormy Asgard to the haunted Bermuda Triangle, to this day they still look bombastic and surprisingly graphically impressive, especially when it comes to water physics. There was not a single track in that I wasn’t laughing in surprise or was in shock; all of them have an almost amusement park ride feeling to them, filled with zany sight gags and obstacles.
These are really the main events and they do not disappoint as you slowly unlock them, collecting points from completing events, excited at what the next track would bring. They are a great reward and motivation to keep playing.
It helps that the moment-to-moment gameplay is so fantastic as well; curving through the water at high speeds feels tight and responsive, and it’s thrilling to make split-second turns and dodges in the waves. The AI is smart and challenging on higher difficulties too, forcing you to memorize shortcuts and track layouts in order to cut the perfect line through. It is helped by the fact that there are several different boats to unlock and each one feels unique, particularly the final few.
It’s not just about racing though; there are two other major game modes, Gauntlet and Ring Master. Gauntlet involves getting through the tracks as fast as possible – there’s a twist however, as the entire track is now covered in bombs that will destroy the boat, leading to a massive time reduction. Ring Master also involves finishing the track in the best time, but you can only gain boost by going through marked rings; missing one slows you down to a halt. Both modes seem similar but really offer a distinct challenge, testing your reflexes and knowledge of the tracks.
It takes some time and dedication to unlock everything in Hydro Thunder Hurricane but it never feels like a slog. It manages to avoid the feelings of repetitiveness and grind that some arcade racers can deliver, all helped along nicely by the fact that Hurricane also supports local multiplayer which is an absolute blast and can become really hectic and intense quickly. Two players of equal skill level can create some insane moments, but it’s easy to pick up and play for anyone.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane on Xbox is still absolutely worth playing today and it is available as a backwards compatible title on the Xbox One. There has not been another in the series since and this title might be the last one, so if you never played any “Thunder” game befor, this is a wonderful starting point, showcasing the very best that arcade racers have to offer. It’s a crazy good time both in single player and multiplayer, and trust me, before long you’ll start seeing the tracks in your head, itching to get back on the water.