Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the resurrection of an old racing franchise, probably best known for its arcade and Sega Dreamcast iterations in the 90s. After the game's publisher Midway went bankrupt, Microsoft bought the franchise license, deciding to bring Hydro Thunder to Xbox Live Arcade. The end result is Hydro Thunder Hurricane, a high definition sequel that stays very close to its aquatic racing roots. Hurricane's strengths lie in its unique water mechanics, numerous multiplayer options, and collective unlock system. One notable drawback is the generally bland presentation, which consists of dull, flat textures and an instantly forgettable soundtrack. Overall, Hydro Thunder Hurricane is an enjoyable arcade racing experience.
Hurricane's primary hook is its water elements that impact the way players need to approach a race. This comes in the form of a dynamic physics system which allows players to gain a speed boost by drifting inside the wake of an opponent's boat, reach hidden areas and upgrades by riding a wave, or conversely, have their momentum slowed by a rogue wave. For the most part, the physics work well, excluding the occasional strange reaction. The real benefit the aquatic elements provide is added depth and strategy - biding time in an opponent's wake, or waiting for the right moment to hit a wave can make all the difference.
That being said, Hydro Thunder's core racing isn't overly complicated, instead focusing on being easy to pick up and enjoy. Aside from the water mechanics, maintaining a speed boost is the other factor essential to success. Power-ups are scattered throughout each course, most of which impact your speed boost. Skilled players will find a route (based on several shortcuts and branching paths) that best chains together boost upgrades. There's nothing revolutionary here, but it's a nice throwback to classic arcade racers.
Hydro Thunder's offering of eight tracks, nine vehicles and three primary game types isn't anything to write home about, however the collective experience system - that takes points earned in one challenge and puts them toward every mode in the game - is worth noting. For example, placing second in an offline or online race nets you 1,000 points which count toward unlocking new vehicles, time trials, ring challenges, etc... This system gives added life to an otherwise plain offering by constantly introducing new challenges for the player.
In the end, it's the variety of multiplayer options that truly give Hydro Thunder staying power. The game supports up to four player splitscreen, both offline and online - something that has, fortunately, become a rare occurrence. In particular, the online functionality is a great addition to Hydro Thunder - playing against other people online adds a great deal of satisfaction to every win, and since players return to the same lobby after each race, you'll likely develop some bitter rivalries.
While the developers should be commended for the effort they put into implementing splitscreen online multiplayer, Hydro Thunder's presentation didn't receive the same care. Overall, Hurricane doesn't have much personality in that regard. The textures are frequently dull and flat, something that is easily noticeable as you drive past each piece of the environment. In terms of audio, the game doesn't fare much better. The soundtrack is instantly forgettable and repetitive, and the announcer is irritating. Hydro Thunder's presentation appears rushed, which is regrettable especially as the development was overseen by Mircosoft Games Studios.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a competent throwback to classic arcade racing. The water mechanics are generally well implemented, the collective experience system makes progressing easy, and the multiplayer is fully featured, giving Hydro Thunder much needed replay value. The main drawback is the presentation, which seems half-assed. Bottom line, Hydro Thunder is an enjoyable experience that you can easily come back to in the future.