I’ve been in a real-life speedboat. It was for work and I was on Lake Windermere, in the middle of winter, while it was pouring down with rain. I was dwarfed by a life jacket and left bouncing up and down on the choppy waters pretending it was summer for a photo shoot. It was the worse day of my life and I was sick more times in an hour than I thought possible. So as I loaded up the “sim” like Speedboat Challenge, I was hoping the experience wasn’t as bad as that horrible day long ago. Unfortunately it was much worse, but at least I wasn’t sick again.
Speedboat Challenge is an oddity. For one thing, and I might be deeply wrong here, but is there really a need for a speedboat simulator racing game? I can understand bikes, cars, even farming simulators, but not many of us own speedboats or will ever go near one. Maybe this is the chance to make your dreams come true and that’s what the developers are banking on. Even so, when you can already mess around on speedboats in GTA and other open world games, what can this game give you that no other speedboat game can. Well…
The game controls are very simple and that was honestly a bit of a surprise, for this is marketed as a sim game. You push up to accelerate on the left thumbstick and you can turn with the right. That’s it. After a while you find you never use the right joystick at all, as you can steer and accelerate with the left. Also I never really had to brake, as the moment you turn it slows down. I’ve never spent so much time just holding my left stick forwards, with great periods of just going in a straight line. If another boat hits you, there are a number of things that happen. One, you stick together in a kind of love tryst and try to keep moving forward. Two, you flip over and that’s the end of the game. And three, you bounce off towards dry land. There is no damage to the boats, or the person driving, or the landscape. You can view behind you and to the left and the right by awkwardly pressing down on the D button, underneath the thrust. It’s safe to say you don’t do this much.
What is the challenge though? Well there are three modes; practice, race and treasure. There’s a tutorial that makes you follow a trainer around one of the 19 tracks, and helps you learn some of the basics of the game. Then you can practice the tracks or leap straight into race mode. In the latter you go around a track, set in five different locations, with up to eight boats. If you do a false start at the beginning you’re disqualified. Like I was countless times. But if you do manage to start, then you are left to run through a number of what feel like very long laps around the track, being careful to keep within the perimeter of the race boundary so as to avoid disqualification. When you’ve finished a race you get some coins that can help you level up, and there are 10 levels in total. These coins are used to upgrade the boat, open new tracks and the like. Whether you get that far though is the big question.
There is nothing wrong with how this game plays; it moves how it should and does everything well. The problem is that it is very, very, boring in its execution, with no tension or excitement while racing. You chug along at what seems a snails pace, occasionally turning a corner or jumping a ramp. The only excitement is when you crash and flip the boat, which isn’t something you should be doing by a long stretch.
To look at the world of Speedboat Challenge is like going back in time. The menus feel like an old PS1 Pro Evolution game – a bit awkward and you end up pressing the wrong button quite a few times. For example when I paused the game, I tried to restart but ended up quitting a whole load of times. The actual look of the game is pleasant on the eye, but very last generation. The water is functional and okay; the boats are nothing special and seem flat and uninspiring. The locations are generic islands, coastlines and cities. The sky is really nice…but that’s all I’ve got I’m afraid. For example there was a level, for some mad reason, called the Jurassic level. Okay I thought, this is a bold move for a racing sim, but maybe speed boating through dinosaurs is what this game needs. There was one T-Rex I could see, far away on an island…but instead of a majestic being it looked bored with life, walking round in circles.
On the sound front there is some water splashing, the drone of the speedboat and some music. This feels dated, but in a good way for me. There was a funky jazzy porn track that my whole house was very quickly singing along to and a rock anthem that was in my head for days on end. But at least it made the boredom of the racing a bit more bearable.
Do I recommend Speedboat challenge? Well if you love all things speedboat, then maybe this is the game for you. There are lots of levels and maps and a strange secret area challenge where you follow a map to find free upgrades. But for the rest of us there is little fun to have here, with an outdated game in both the looks and gameplay departments.
After this experience, I will now remember that rainy day in Cumbria with rose tinted glasses.