The original Splashdown was a great game, perhaps the best of its kind for the time. It offered tight, responsive gameplay, creative course designs, impressive visuals, and even managed to include quite a bit of personality as well. But it was a bit limited in terms of variety. The sequel, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild, fixes that nagging problem by including over 45 unique courses that are even more creative and enjoyable than those featured in the original. More characters, tricks, rewards, and graphical niceties have been added as well, resulting in a sequel that should surpass the expectations of even the most adamant fans of the first game.
Multiple game modes are available in Rides Gone Wild, including a comprehensive tutorial training mode. Career, arcade, and a multiplayer versus mode also make an expected return this time around. Playing the game and doing well in competitions will earn you points that can be spent in the warehouse shop, where plenty of unlockable goodies await. New characters, aqua suits, Sea-Doos, musical selections, gameplay features, race tracks, and pre-rendered animation sequences can be purchased at the warehouse.
A significant alteration in Rides Gone Wild is the newly revised trick system. While it may initially seem that not much has changed in this regard, further experimentation will reveal multi-tiered stunt mechanics. In the first game, you could bust out with some wild tricks by pushing a certain direction of the D pad or analog stick along with one of three trigger buttons. You can still do that here but by holding the trigger button and hitting a different direction, your rider will transition into another trick. Hitting yet another direction will transition the rider into yet another trick. Successfully pulling off a three-part trick will quickly fill your performance meter, which allows you to reach maximum speed on your Sea-Doo almost instantly. Problem is, trial-and-error is pretty much the only way you’ll discover the unique directions you need to press to perform these high-flying stunts. That, or you can do what I did and simply run your thumb around the D-pad in every possible direction, negating the need to memorize unique input combinations altogether. The fact that you can even do this is a little surprising, and doesn’t do much to sell me on this sequel’s revamped trick mechanics.
The career mode is where you’ll want to go to get the most out of the game’s single-player experience. Here, you’ll have the option to choose from two different styles of play: world and stadium. There are only eight different courses in the career world mode, but they are far-and-away the most creative track designs in the game. These three-lap courses feature wild environmental dynamics that dramatically change the structure of each course from lap to lap. You’ll ride through flooded city environments, twisting and turning through school hallways and emptied theatres; a pirate ship battle reenactment where large wood structures will come crashing down into the water, opening up new paths to race along; and even swamp-like areas that feature towering dinosaurs looking to quench their thirst. The environmental effects aren’t as striking as say, Downhill Domination’s, but they are quite a bit of fun to race through nonetheless.
The career stadium mode includes about a dozen different indoor tracks that are optimized to test your riding techniques and airborne trick skills. While these courses don’t boast the same amount of visual impressiveness as the world tracks, we enjoyed this mode even more due to the incredibly well-crafted course designs. But no matter which career option you play, you’ll have to finish each race in the top two or three position, depending on the track. Placing first in a race will net you major points, but pulling off multi-tiered tricks or breaking the fastest lap record will also add considerably to your overall score.
All the other modes in Rides Gone Wild are basically there to help you hone your skills and practice the tracks that you’ve opened up in the career modes or purchased at the warehouse. Arcade mode allows you to select the racer, Sea-Doo, track and race style (such as the number of laps, the skill level of opponent AI, and wave intensity). Then there’s time trial and freestyle races that allow you to practice different courses without worrying about competitors or time constraints. Lastly, there is a versus mode that gives you the option to race against a friend in any of the tracks you have unlocked, except for the world courses.
The graphics in Rides Gone Wild have undergone a noticeable overhaul from the original game, and the result is a far more elaborate and detailed visual presentation. The courses, particularly the world courses, benefit from a remarkable amount of detail and vibrant, realistic textures. The comical style that all the characters have adopted, with their exaggerated bodies and faces that brim with personality, look great. Character animation is top notch too; racers believably transfer their weight from side to side during turns, lean forward to submarine, or pull back to hydroplane. There are also a handful of pre-rendered ending sequences - unfortunately, these only last a few seconds apiece. Water effects, a graphical aspect of the experience that should have taken center stage, aren’t all that prominent in Rides Gone Wild, which is a bit surprising and disappointing.
In terms of audio, Rides Gone Wild features a multi-faceted soundtrack, lots of recorded in-game racer quips that occur whenever you pass or are passed by an opponent, and plenty of ambient sound effects that differ drastically from course to course. An assortment of licensed musical tracks can be heard in the game’s career stadium mode and an original, theatrical-sounding collection of orchestrations is heard during the eight world courses. By default, the volume levels are set a little strange, with opponent quips cranked to 100% and music to 50%, but a quick visit to the audio options allows you to tweak the aural presentation to your specific tastes.
Overall, Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is a marked improvement over the original game in nearly every way. Except for the revamped trick system, which isn’t nearly as entertaining, deep, or satisfying as we had initially hoped it would be. Nevertheless, the slew of unlockables, dozens of excellently designed stadium courses, highly stylized world courses, and responsive gameplay should provide plenty of hours of enjoyment for fans of original or aquatic racing games in general.