Developer: Rainbow Studios
Release Date: 6/26/2002
Splashdown is a high-speed wave-racing game that puts you in the seat of powerful Sea-Doo automobiles. The racing elements of the game are incredibly engaging and exciting, but everybody knows that the best way to liven up a sports game is to include stunts. And that’s exactly what the folks at Rainbow Studios did, a wide assortment of satisfying, adrenaline-inducing stunts were integrated into the game, and, let me tell you, they rock! The PS2 got a taste of Splashdown a while back and now lucky Xbox owners will get the same and then some, more specifically two new levels are included. These stages are downright awe-inspiring and almost look out of place with the rest of the game. Splashdown is a solid, enjoyable, and impressive water-sports racing game that any Xbox owner would do well to pick up.
The control method for maneuvering your Sea-Doo is simple; steering is performed with the l-stick or d-pad, and you can accelerate by pressing A, that’s pretty much all there is to moving around. The r-stick rotates the camera perspective. By pressing up or down on the l-stick you can position the driver forward and backward on the seat of the Sea-Doo, which is useful in certain instances. For example, you'll want to position your watercraft so that it’s level with the water before a landing in order to stay at maximum momentum. You can also perform bunny-hops using this control dynamic by shifting your weight forward so that you submerge and then letting go of the l-stick, this will bounce you up out of the water and is helpful for avoiding small obstacles. While driving on level water pulling back on the l-stick causes your watercraft to hydroplane, giving you a substantial increase in speed. On normal and hard difficulty it is absolutely imperative that you use this maneuver, otherwise you won't stand a chance of winning all the races.
Splashdown isn't all about straight-forward racing, when you’re in the air you can perform stunts, that if successfully executed, increases the overall acceleration and top-speed of your watercraft. To perform stunts you have to push a direction on the l-stick while pressing a modifier button. Each character has 25 stunts, all of which are shared between every character, however each racer does have one unique trademark stunt. If you are feeling saucy you can hit the black button while performing stunts to get the ‘thrill-cam’ perspective of the action. This feature is a catch-22 of sorts since it is the coolest vantage point to view the action from, but also the hardest perspective from which to successfully pull off stunts.
Here’s a rundown of the different modes in the game: Training, which allows you to polish your skills for things like basic driving, bunny hopping and stunts. In career mode you choose a racer and a difficulty setting then play through a set of courses, on easy you get 12 courses, and on normal or hard you get 20. You are going to have to play the normal and hard modes to see the most original and innovative tracks of the game. There is also arcade mode which gives you a choice of four different events; Circuit, Free Ride, Time Trials, and Countdown. These modes offer little replay value and feel like they were added at the last moment, although Countdown mode can be surprisingly addictive despite it’s simple play mechanics.
Career mode is the meat of the game, it’s the only mode where you can compete against new racers between courses to unlock them for play in the other modes of the game. Speaking of the different characters there are eight racers, the different racers you can be each have their own unique personality. Like Haily Hollister who is a rich daddy’s-girl and spends all her time on the racetrack, Rafael Martin who is a successful business man and considers water-sports the ultimate stress-reliever, and Kyoko Takahashi who is a low-key and pleasant Asian girl until she gets out in the water and her personality ‘explodes.’ Every character that you complete a career with, regardless of the difficulty level, will result in a quirky off-the-wall cinema, one of the more humorous ones is Kyoko’s whose Sea-Doo transforms into a giant battle-mech and saves the world from destruction right after becoming champion of water-sports, all in a days work I suppose.
Certain aspects of the visuals in this game are splendidly rendered, for instance the water is 100% brilliant. The way it moves and reacts to the Sea-Doos is completely realistic and looks phenomenal. It’s not the best water effects I've ever seen in an Xbox game but its definitely in the top 3. The Sea-Doo models look accurate and detailed, each character in the game has their own Sea-Doo and no two racers use the same model. The character models get the job done but could have benefited from a higher polygon-count. Atmospheres are hands-down the most impressive graphical facet of Splashdown, one course that looks particularly impressive includes a serene twilight background mixed in with fireflies, exotic trees, and all sorts of additional atmospheric niceties. Music is a mixed bag, expect moldy oldies like ‘All Star’ by Smashmouth mixed in with entertaining, non-commercial tunes like ‘Rock Da Juice’ by The Dude. The sound effects feel like they were ripped straight out of real-life watersport races, the sound of the Sea-Doo’s engines conveys a remarkable sense of power, almost to the point that it overpowers the sounds of passing drivers yelling out remarks and even the music at times. The voice acting in the game is a little bland, its not cheesy or sub-par by any means, but it just lacks polish and refinement.
There are a few unlockables in the game but it is nothing to write home about, expect such additions as new costume colors, a couple new riders, and a couple additional courses. All in all, though, Splashdown may very well be the best water-based racing game for any system to date. The addictive play mechanics and the visual splendor of the Xbox exclusive courses are really what set this game apart. I highly suggest picking this game up, or at the very least giving it a rental.