When most people talk about Wave Race they usually refer to the Nintendo 64 title, Wave Race 64. While there hasn’t been many entries in the franchise, many don’t know the origins of the series. Wave Race, for the original Gameboy, is the first title in the series. The Wave Race series has always been known for its impressive wave physics, and how they change both the level and your racing strategy. These physics are fully realized on the power houses known as the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube… well, power houses compared to the Gameboy. But how do you implement such an advanced concept into an 8-bit Gameboy game? And did this title lay the ground work for later Wave Race games, or just lend the concept?
Unlike other entries in the series, Wave Race, for the Gameboy, is a top down racer. You race through tracks from an overhead perspective. The biggest problem with this is that you have a limited field of view due to the small Gameboy screen. It is very difficult to see what is coming up, but considering it is a Gameboy game, they probably didn’t have much of a choice when it comes to perspectives. Thankfully, the map helps give you a bit of insight on what is coming up next. But if things are getting hectic, and you can’t glance at the map, you better hope you have good knowledge of the track. Remembering where you actually are on a track is difficult in itself.
Despite having around 8 tracks, every track looks almost exactly the same. There is water at all times. The only indication on what track you’re on is the map. A handful of tracks throw a few surprises at you including ramps, tides, and some obstacles, but they don’t add nearly enough variety. The number of tracks is limited, and the lack of variety between each track doesn’t help. Later Wave Race titles rely a lot on changing weather to spice up the limited number of courses. But on the Gameboy, there is no such thing. So every time you play a course, it is exactly the same as last time. The limited number of courses becomes even more apparent when every cup requires you to replay old tracks.
Wave Race does offer a little bit of variety in terms of modes. There are two modes, Circuit and Slalom. Circuit is a race to the finish through a set of courses. Each place has a numbered value of points – gain enough points at the end of the circuit and you move on. But computer racers seem to have the advantage in circuit mode, as they start to accelerate to almost unreachable speeds by the player’s standards. The other mode, Slalom, has you racing through flags for points. Computer racers appear in this mode as well, so you have to race to grab the flags as quickly as possible. Once you collect enough points in a set of events, you can move on. Slalom has its own set of tracks, and they are a little more interesting then the Circuit’s courses. But they too become quite repetitive since you end up following the same flag pattern to win almost every time.
As a top down racer, Wave Race is average at best. But there are a few things that make Wave Race stand out. Probably the most notable feature is how the water skis handle. You drift, a lot. Very rarely do you feel like you have 100% control while turning in Wave Race. If you suddenly turn more then 90 degrees, you can pretty much kiss first place goodbye as you slide all over the track struggling to regain control. It is an interesting mechanic that is challenging to master. But once you lose control, it is just frustrating. The second notable feature is a boost, somewhat similar to the one found in Excite Bike. As you race, a boost meter fills. Using the B button, you can unleash a speed boost. It is essential to find the right times to boost. If you boost on a turn, get ready to slide out of control. In order to win races in Wave Race, you must perfect the art of both turning and boosting.
Like Mario Kart, Wave Race has power ups, but there are only two. One power up makes turning a breeze, and the other steals boost power from other players. They are helpful, but are about as exciting as they sound.
As mentioned before, Wave Race has water – lots and lots of water. When it comes to the visuals, there’s not much to really look at aside from water. But it is a top down Gameboy game where you race on water, what else can you expect? Wave Race could have been improved in the audio department. The tunes that are here are cheerful, and fit their uses. But much of the game is just the humming of motors from your water ski with little to no music to be found. So if you play this one, definitely bring an iPod, or something, along.
Wave Race is fun to play, but it definitely hasn’t aged well. The main problem is the fact that it is on the Gameboy. The system allows for little variety, and keeps the game from being anything but an average top down racer. Turning, while unique, feels a bit frustrating, but it might be worth a look if you are looking for a challenge. Otherwise, the only other reasons I can recommend Wave Race is if you are just interested in the origins of the series, or if for some reason all you have is an original Gameboy and you have a racing itch. Either way, it is very affordable nowadays. So if you are looking to take the jump, it won’t cost you much.
- Unique turning mechanics
- A solid top down racer
- Well executed considering the system
- Spawned awesome sequels
- Very affordable
- Lacks variety
- Turn mechanics not for everyone
- Hasn’t aged well
- Concept limited by the system