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Wave Race 64 Package Art
Nintendo Co. Ltd.

Wave Race 64

Certainly, at the N64 launch, Super Mario 64 was the "killer app" to sell the system. Yet there was another game worthy of such a distinction-- at least it came in second place in terms of excellent game design, graphics, and fun. That game was Wave Race 64.


If there is a game that showed in 1996 what the N64 was capable of better than any other, it was definitely Wave Race 64. Right from the start, stunning water graphics fill the screen. The 3D rendering of water has never looked better or more realistic than this-- from transparency, light reflection, waves-- not even recent games on super consoles such as Dreamcast have made water so impressive.

Of course, the jet ski drivers the player has to choose from leave a little to be desired-- the models are full of seams and what appear to be disjointed limbs. Yet, again, it's the water that's the star of the game. It's lighted in many different colors, from bright blue, to orange, to navy in a night race course, with city lights flickering off the surface. Further, not only is the water rendered well, but the waves are rather random (for the most part) and appear as if the polygons aren't just cycling through patterned rotations.

Miscellaneous other effects, such as sun flares, dolphins, killer whales, and tropical fish add to the beauty of the game. The colors are bright and crisp without coming off as too overdone.


Perhaps in an effort to show CD-based systems that N64 wasn't weak in the audio arena, Wave Race features a full voiced announcer and a female voice for training. Unfortunately, the announcer is love him or hate him, as his smarmy, over-exagerrated enthusiasm can sometimes be grating or laughable. There are no complaints on the woman's voice over for the training, which, in comparison, is calm and relaxed.

Besides voice, the ocean sounds themselves are authentic and believable-- from roaring waves to small ripples, seagulls and crowds-- all add to the experience. The music is light and sometimes rather sugary smooth jazz, with a couple exceptions of rocking guitar music.


The definition of a truly great game often comes down to gameplay. Typically, racers can faulter in this area. Such is not the case for Wave Race.

There's a small, gradual learning curve for players to get over initially, but after that, they will realize that controlling the jet skis is a breeze. Even with all the buttons on the N64 controller, Wave Race's producers made the wise decision to not utilize all of them, and that's a big strength of the game's design. There are many things you can do with the game's jet skis, but only with minimal button presses, whether it be racing or executing stunts off of ramps.

Players have a choice of four different racers to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Beyond that, players can also customize the handling and other aspects of the jet ski itself. While there are only eight courses to race through, they are designed expertly, and offer variety through the different difficulty levels and ability to adjust the water to be calmer or wilder than the default setting. Furthermore, if the gamer plays far enough into the game, he or she will be rewarded with the option to race mirrored versions of the courses.

Typical race features are included in Wave Race-- Training, Championship, Time Trial, and a Stunt Course. All are still fun to play, even if none of these ideas are new.


Wave Race offers a horizontally split screen two player competition. While the competition is only one on one, and graphics are scaled down in complexity, the game is still as fast and beautiful as it is in the one player mode. Noticeable differences are often small, such as the "R" and "L" being missing off the buoys you race around, or some lights may be missing here and there. Also, the water itself doesn't extend as far out to the horizon, but what water is rendered is the same high quality as in the one player game.

It's unfortunate that two players can't race through a circuit together, or race with at least all four characters on the screen. However, given the age of this game, what has been pulled off in terms of preserving the graphic detail and speed is very impressive.


There are far too many racing games on the N64. It has always been an overkilled genre on the console. Yet if someone had only one racing game they wanted to purchase for their N64 library, it shouldn't be 1080 Snowboarding, Extreme-G, a Cruis'n title, or even Mario Kart 64. Wave Race 64 should be the choice. Even four years later, the game remains a graphic marvel and is perfectly balanced in terms of gameplay

final score 9.5/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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