You probably already know which game in Nintendo’s back catalogue I’m going to mention in this review because Aqua Moto Racing Utopia doesn’t hide the fact that it tries to fill that Wave Race shaped hole that Nintendo seemingly doesn’t want to. As a huge fan of the two console Wave Race games (the Game Boy version wasn’t my thing), I sincerely hoped that this game would be at least decent enough to keep me going for a while longer. It makes a splash alright, but not a very good one, unfortunately.
It feels very much like a knock-off version of Wave Race. Of course, that game was made by Nintendo and this has been made by an indie developer, so you assume one should be superior to the other. But it has been over 16 years (that makes me feel old!) since the former’s latest release and games should be looking and playing better now than they ever have, so I just expected it to be challenged, in terms of quality, a bit more than Aqua Moto Racing Utopia has here.
After quickly customising your character and getting into a race, you will notice that the concept in Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is exactly the same as it was in Wave Race. Each race environment is fairly open, only really outlined by the buoys laid out in front of you. In order to finish races, you need to pass the buoys on the correct side, red being right and yellow being left, and if you keep missing them you will be disqualified from the race. You are able to miss some of the buoys intentionally in order to take a little bit of a shortcut, which is sometimes the difference between first and second place so it’s always good to test which ones are better to miss. One detriment to this, however, is by passing buoys on the correct side, you fill up a meter on the bottom right of the screen that, once filled, allows you to activate a boost, and so missing the buoys will result in losing the boost.
You are also able to perform stunts in order to fill this boost meter too. You can perform stunts and tricks coming off ramps or you can just do a trick whilst riding along, such as a handstand. Stunts are used for more than just to gain boost too, as there are dedicated stunt levels. The problem is that the stunt system simply doesn’t work as well as intended. It’s not completely broken, but it all seems a bit too loose and you never feel like you’re in full control over what you are doing.
That’s a bit of a theme, as the steering in general also feels a bit awkward at times too. You are required to be twisting and turning in order to pass the buoys correctly, but the controls are so slippery that it takes a lot of getting used to, probably more than should be necessary. It doesn’t help that some of the levels feature wave patterns that I’m sure were put there solely to annoy the heck out of you. Sometimes it felt like I spent more time catapulted in the air than I did riding in the water. All I can say is be prepared for a lot of untidy falls. What this does mean, however, is that it does make for unpredictable laps and races, and that is something that I am always okay with.
Aqua Moto Racing Utopia features a full array of multiplayer options including split-screen, local, and online multiplayer. It is always great seeing indie developers including a proper online option for their games, but I wouldn’t always expect to find anybody to play against, as I found it very hard to find anybody else online and this is probably only going to get more and more difficult as time goes on.
So, a Wave Race substitute this is not. Aqua Moto Racing Utopia tries to imitate Nintendo’s classic racer but it never comes anywhere close to it in all honesty. Which is a massive shame because this could have filled a gap for a lot of Nintendo 64 and GameCube era Nintendo fans like me. This is an improvement on the developer’s other recent racing game, Snow Moto Racing Freedom, but I think that might only be because racing on water with a jet-ski is much better than racing in the snow on a snowmobile. The main thing that this game does more than anything, is that it makes me want a new Wave Race game more than ever.