After the hey day of Wave Race 64 and Jet Moto in the mid 90s, jet ski racing games fell off the face of the earth. It’s a shame that they did, as the inclusion of water physics makes for a racing experience unlike anything else on the marketplace. Originally released last year on other consoles, Riptide GP: Renegade aims to take advantage of this deficiency by being more or less the only game in town. While I’ve only played a few hours of the single player, I did want to note down some early thoughts on this one.
This takes place at some point in the future where waterways weave through cities and unsanctioned races are illegal. The game’s protagonist is duped by a rival into participating in such a race, causing him to go to jail for a few years. By the time he’s out, he has to start from the bottom while his rival is the top racer in the circuit. Overall, the execution of the story is pretty poor, but I like that there’s a through line that ties the campaign together. It’s enough of a motivation to move forward.
Once you’re in the driver’s seat, the action gets pretty tense very quickly. Things move at a brisk pace, as you whip around the tracks at high speed. I really enjoy the track designs, as they give you a lot to look at and shortcuts to discover. Even with four-player local split-screen going, the game does everything it can to maintain a steady 60 FPS. However, performance issues do arise, which is particularly jarring in a racing game. You will run into hitches when the action on-screen gets too frantic when flashy set pieces appear or when too many racers are on screen at once. I can tolerate the odd hiccup in docked mode, but in portable mode the stability is notably worse.
The game’s campaign is actually quite extensive. While the total number of tracks in the game runs a bit thin, the game extends the experience with many different modes. Most races require laps around the track till someone gets first place, but there are also elimination matches where the racer in last place is dropped from the race, slalom races that require you to weave around cones, and even boss races against key characters. Along the way, you will earn XP that will help you unlock new tricks or boosts, as well as money that can be used to soup up your ride.
In general, I enjoyed my trek through the campaign. However, there are times where the difficulty spikes to the extreme. In these cases, it seems like you have no choice but to drive the perfect race with a maxed-out vehicle just to scrape by in 3rd place. When this happens, and it seems to be random when it happens, you’re kind of out of luck. Whether you repeatedly run the race or shut the console off to try another day, the AI will eventually let up and allow you to move on.
Outside of the campaign, you can engage in local 2-4 player split-screen racing. Graphical detail is sacrificed for a smoother framerate, which is greatly appreciated. Even with four players racing, the game does an admirable, albeit imperfect, attempt at holding at 60 FPS. The thin track list prevents it from being a staple at your regular local gaming sessions, but there’s enough for a solid afternoon of racing.
You can also race opponents online, though good luck finding anyone to race against. It’s a bare-bone quick race option that only allows for races against random opponents. When I have partaken in an online race, the game ran just fine. However, there are so few people playing this game online that the likelihood of you getting much use out of this feature is slim.
There are performance and content aspects of the Riptide GP: Renegade experience that prevent it from reaching its full potential. However, for the many things it does right at its budget price point, I had a pretty good time with this one. When I wasn’t whipping my controller at the ground for its unusual difficulty spikes, the game definitely reminded me of the joy I felt when I first played Wave Race 64. One more note to prospective buyers of this game on the Nintendo Switch. This game runs poorly enough in portable mode that I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this game on the Switch if portability is a priority. Instead, go with the PC or PlayStation 4 version.