When you think back to the Nintendo 64, beyond standard games such as Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, there are a handful of classics that are entrenched in reality – another of the console’s launch titles without a doubt being one of them.
At a quick glance, Wave Race 64 is essentially a racing game on jet-skis. Which is pretty cool in itself, as there really are too few of these around. In it, you select your character and jet ski before racing through varied courses – slaloming between various buoys in order to get a boost and remain in the game. It’s that simple. There are multiple difficulty levels unlocked as you go through the game and the courses change depending on which you are on, with some of the courses only being available on harder difficulties.
It has a standard Championship mode, which is where the meat of the game is. Players have to go through the courses, ranking at certain intervals in order to continue onwards. There’s also a Time Trial Mode where you can aim to finish in the best time on a chosen stage, and Stunt Mode where you can use the waves and obstacles to build your overall score. There is also a 2P VS mode so that you can race your friends in split-screen.
You aren’t just locked to the standard jetskis, however, as you can fully customise everything about their mechanics to suit you. So, if you like the look of a specific jet ski, you can tweak it to be exactly how you want it to be. After beating a Championship, you can also edit the conditions of that difficulty including wave veracity, amount of buoy misses allowed and the amount of laps you’ll need to complete.
The game controls well considering its age, with movement being completely fluid. There is a bit of a learning curve, however. You can’t just go full throttle through all the courses as the waves fully affect your movement. If the waves are big and strong, then you’ll lose control and be unable to turn, just as in real life. You need to master how to use these waves to your advantage, to get boosts off of them, when to lean into them and so forth. This will take time, but nothing feels quite as satisfying as beating the championship on Expert due to your mastery of the jet ski.
Father time has unfortunately not been as kind with these graphics as other Nintendo 64 games from the period. The models are very polygonal, which is understandable, but the issue is the water. The water, while looking good in the past, just doesn’t look all that good here, being far too geometric. That aside, there’s a great variety with the stage locales showing off how nice this game looks and manages to give the feel of a sunny beach with dolphins swimming by or a stormy dock.
The music is good and catchy, very much standing the test of time. There are some voiceovers as you gain power by passing the buoys and informing you of the situations. You may find yourself humming the tracks. There’s also great sound effects in each stage that help bring the courses to life. Random seagulls and machinery in the stages really help set the atmosphere.
Wave Race 64 still remains fun to play and tricky to master. While it has been 15 years since the last iteration of the franchise, and even 20 years since this game first came out, it still holds up rather well. While options are limited compared to games of today, there’s much to enjoy and it begs the question, when are we getting a new version?