Video game water levels, the old saying goes, are a lot like pubic lice. Irritating, deeply unwelcome, and it seems like they’ll never go away, but if you like having fun there’s a chance you’re going to run into them eventually. The bane of every gamer’s existence, they’re usually a developer’s lazy attempt to throw in a bit of variety by mixing up the gameplay and upping the difficulty. And nine times out of ten, they turn into an awkward annoying mess beloved of absolutely no-one who plays them.
But there are exceptions. Via clever design, innovating thinking, and (shock) even using water for its fun potential rather than the opposite, some designers have turned up some absolute soggy stormers. They’re rare, but they exist. Everyone else, please start taking notes now.
If you’ve just skimmed over that header, there’s a good chance that you don’t trust me any more. There’s a good chance you think I have more questionable critical faculties than the happy recipient of a Jamie Cullum ticket, or else have enticed you into reading this feature with the sole aim of using it to laud my ultra-manly gaming skills over you, like a giant bullying a sick child.
Combined, Earthworm Jim’s Down the Tubes and Tube Race make up one of the foulest, cheapest, most overly-demanding and downright broken water section in 16-bit history. That section caused more people to use the level select cheat than any other aspect of the game. Hell, they probably caused Shiny Entertainment to put the cheat in there in the first place. So why is on this list? It isn’t. What is on this list is the reprisal from Earthworm Jim HD, the Xbox 360 and PS3 re-release from earlier this year, which completely fixed said sick gaming joke.
The original levels charged you with navigating a bulbous submarine along an insanely lengthy and convoluted series of pokey stone tunnels. The problem? Said submarine was designed as thoughtfully as a chocolate teapot, being essentially a large jet-powered lightbulb. So bulbous as to almost fill the rocky corridors and made of such thin glass as to threaten an explosion should Jim so much as fart, it also required regular oxygen top-ups from air outlets protruding from the tunnel walls.
Air outlets which would only let you dock with them around 20% of the time, because their collusion detection was completely borked. Oh yeah, and so was the inertia model that controled sub’s twitchy movement. And did I mention that almost the entirety of Tube Race is a marathon tunnel sprint with only a single oxygen to-up at the start?
But in the HD port by those nigh-messianic folk at Gameloft, the inertia is fixed, the controls work, and the collision detection actually detects collisions. So the whole thing plays out as it was probably originally intended. And it’s a really rather fun, adrenalin-soaked, breakneck thrill ride from start to finish.
Unless we’re talking about the likes of Wave Race or Hydro Thunder (which we’re not), the introduction of water to a racing game sounds pretty unwelcome. Racing games are about speed and manoeuvrability. Water in games categorically is not.
But miraculously, Koopa Beach manages to use the old wet stuff to the advantage of both of the above. If you’re good enough to use it properly, that is. And of course, you are…
Made up of isolated sand banks surrounded by deadly encroaching sea water (okay, not deadly, but go with us on the drama here), it’s a constant to-and-fro between full-speed racing and splash-related slowdown. But only if you take an obvious racing line around the track. Should you practice and plan your route carefully, you’ll find that many of the gaps between the mini islands are merely a well timed bunny-hop apart, cutting out the need for all that brow-furrowed decceleration between sections of ‘proper’ track.
Even better, if you eschew the usual weapons and hold out for a speed boosting mushroom, it’s possible to find even faster roots by navigating through the submerged parts, even going so far as to skim your kart over the insta-sink deeper sections where a person strapped into a heavy piece of machinery would ordinarily fear to tread. And if that ‘shroom isn’t forthcoming, you can always just slam people into the deep as they pass.
Simple gameplay, clever design, stacks of hidden depth and massive potential for being a total sod. It’s classic Mario Kart all round.