It’s the year 1996 and only one thing on my 10 year old mind, the Nintendo 64. I remember asking (and hoping) to get one for Christmas that year. With only two games available at the time of launch, Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64, I naturally asked for both. I was later convinced that Pilotwings 64 wasn’t going to be that great and that I should ask for Wave Race 64 instead. So I changed my mind and asked for Wave Race 64. Christmas morning came and sure enough both Super Mario 64 and Wave Race 64 were under the tree. Super Mario 64 is a magical game, but Wave Race 64 is magical for different reasons. Wave Race 64 is more than just a magical game; it’s a tsunami of nostalgia.
Wave Race 64 is known for having impressive and realistic water physics, so impressive that it’s hard for me to pinpoint a game that does it better. Bobbing up and down on these waves is something that needs to be experienced by every gamer. At first you may think that it would be hard to control your water craft on such waves, but you’ll be happy to hear that the game controls just fine.
After recently picking up the N64 controller again, I realized one thing; this controller is perfect for Wave Race 64. You control the direction of your water craft with the analog stick and throttling with A. Analog control is perfect for this game because you can make tighter turns depending on the position you hold the stick. You can also use R to slide on waves allowing you to make last minute sharp turns. B can be used to dampen waves, which will allow you to soften the impact, but I never used this function a lot. Regardless, all of the controls together make this one of the tightest controlled games I’ve ever experienced.
There are a few different ways to play Wave Race 64, but the Championship mode is the main game. In this mode you will have to race against three other competitors with a goal of having the highest point total by the circuit’s end. Points are dependent upon the place you finish in each course; this is of course identical to Mario Kart games. You must also have a certain amount of points in order to advance to the next course.
There are four different difficulties to play with certain courses only available in the higher difficulties; Normal has 6 courses, Hard has 7, Expert has 8, and the last is mirror mode. You have to achieve a gold trophy to unlock further difficulties which can be quite challenging, lots of practice will most likely be needed, but overall, Championship mode is very satisfying.
Wave Race 64 just isn’t a race to the end, you must also be aware of buoys on each course. Buoys are marked L and R to signify which side you must be travelling. Riding in the correct manner will build your engine power. At maximum power you can attain a higher speed which is important when going for first place, or getting lower lap times. If you don’t manage to pass a buoy correctly you will get a miss, do this five times and you must retire the race. To top it off, Wave Race 64 has great course design. There are simplistic courses like Sunny Beach and more difficult courses such as Glacier Coast which is complete with slippery sections. Ultimately, these courses stand up to any racing game I’ve ever played and I still enjoy them today.
In addition to Championship, you can also play a Time Trials mode which is self-explanatory. There is a multiplayer option, but it only supports two players in split screen action. Lastly, there is a Stunt Mode that challenges you to get a high score by performing tricks (backflips, handstands, etc.) and riding through rings. You are being timed, so it is important to go through rings quickly to reach checkpoints in a timely manner.
There is even a small level of customization in Wave Race 64. Each player can be renamed and settings can be customized for each water craft. You can toggle your handling and grip as well as how the engine performs. I have experimented with this a lot and find that you can usually improve upon the original settings. When you have more than one person playing the game you can each choose a racer and make them your own. You can also change wave settings which can make things a little more interesting, or a lot easier.
To match its magical qualities, Wave Race 64 throws an amazing soundtrack at you as well. The main theme is incredible and is remixed wonderfully a number of times throughout the game, but there are some other standout tracks as well. Drake Lake has a mysterious and atmospheric theme while Twilight City has a more futuristic vibe. Wave Race 64’s soundtrack was composed by the legendary Kazumi Totaka. Kazumi is a passionate composer and it really shines through in this soundtrack. He has also given the gaming community one of the coolest video game easter eggs (though it hasn’t been found in Wave Race 64 yet) of all time; Totaka’s Song ring a bell anyone? Throw in an enthusiastic announcer and this game has sounds that please.
Wave Race 64 is also a great looking game, and I think it has aged quite well considering that it was released over 15 years ago. Being a Nintendo 64 game means that it has some sharp polygons, but Wave Race 64 compensates with a great design. The water itself looks gorgeous and there are some neat environmental effects as well such as the fog on Drake Lake. There are some cardboard cut-outs in the form of spectators and trees that looked funny then, but are even more ridiculous now.
5/5 D-Pads: Overall, Wave Race 64 is as close to perfection as any video game could hope to achieve. Barring a small graphical hiccup, Wave Race 64 fits my definition of video game perfection. Though its gameplay may not be for everyone, it does present tight controls, great gameplay, amazing water physics, awesome courses, and a stellar soundtrack. My recent stint with the game inspired this review, especially because it has held up so well when compared to today’s standard. Wave Race 64 is one of those magical classics that will live on for many years to come.