From one perspective Nintendo's Switch is slowly striking the N64 classics off its hit list - in the nicest possible way. Over the past year the likes of Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time have passed the torch to the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Breath of the Wild respectively.

With Aqua Moto Racing Utopia splashing down onto the eShop (with a seemingly limited retail edition, too), should we dare to hope that Wave Race 64 is next to fall?

No, we shouldn't. Sorry to be blunt, but we need to dispel that inevitable comparison straight away. It's deeply unhelpful to what is a solid, inoffensive but rather mediocre aquatic racer.

Aqua Moto Racing Utopia has its roots in smartphone gaming, but it does have some Nintendo pedigree. Back in 2013 Zordix launched Aqua Moto Racing 3D onto the 3DS eShop. What you're getting here is an essentially similar experience, but with vastly improved graphics and technical performance. 

You and a bunch of AI opponents bomb around a variety of watery environments on your jet-skis, nipping through mangroves, ducking under bridges and scraping past oil tankers.

Each open environment contains a loosely structured course for you to follow, as delineated by coloured buoys. Red buoys must be passed to the right, while yellow buoys need to be passed to the left. Passing closer to those buoys does more than maximise your racing line - it also fills your boost gauge faster. Once this gauge is full you can launch yourself forward at an accelerated rate for a few seconds.

Another way to fill that boost gauge is to perform stunts off the many ramps that are littered across each course. You can spin or flip your jet-ski by holding ZL and the left stick, perform a number of poses by holding the right stick in a direction, or combine the two. Fail to land your jet-ski straight, though, and you're set for a messy fall and a time-sapping restart.

There are a lot of messy falls in Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, and that's largely down to the game's brutal water physics.

On the positive side, it makes every lap genuinely unpredictable. What were smooth waters on the first lap could be roiling swells by the end, often thanks to the wakes of your opponents. Memorising the courses only gets you so far here, as you need to be able to feel out the waters and predict what they're going to do to you.

One open sea course sets you racing towards a brutally hemmed-in hairpin turn. If you just motor on into the turn you'll probably leap off one of the huge waves straight into the side of a hulking boat. Feather the throttle, dip your nose down into the bigger waves and hold ZL to make a tight turn, however, and you have a chance of making it through.

Water has a pronounced effect, then, but it's often overly exaggerated and lacking in that organic flow that the best aquatic racers (like Wave Race) have. Combined with the harsh penalty for any kind of direct collision with your competitors or the level furniture, 'unpredictable' can quickly become a negative trait.

Similarly clumsy are the graphics. Everything's somewhat gaudy and cheap looking, and Aqua Moto Racing Utopia just can't shake off that feeling of an eight-year-old smartphone game despite its sharpened edges. The water, meanwhile, has a slightly uncanny look and feel to it, and it often feels like it's made of a jelly-like substance rather than liquid.

Aside from straight races you'll also encounter stunt-focused rounds, and these tend to show off the clunkiness of the game's physics systems as you struggle and jostle to line yourself up for a clean jump.

Local multiplayer fans are well catered for, with splitscreen competition for up to four players. It runs quite nicely even in handheld mode, where the basic graphics aid legibility on the Switch's small screen.

There's no provision to tackle the campaign mode in multiplayer, unfortunately, but there are four party games to keep you all entertained: Aqua Moto Hockey, Keep the Flag, King of the Hill and Duckling Mama. The latter resembles an aquatic Mario Kart battle mode (if you squint), with a colour coded arena and a cute duck-stealing mechanic. None of it's outstanding, but there's definitely entertainment to be had given the chaotic nature of the racing.

Conclusion

Aqua Moto Racing Utopia initially appeals for being a rare water-based racer. Scooting around on your jet-ski often feels more like riding a bucking bronco than driving a vehicle, and that makes it stand out from regular landlocked racers.

However, it's lacking several layers of finesse and balance, the presentation is deeply unappealing, and those aggressive water physics are a mixed blessing. We're just going to have to wait patiently for Nintendo to return to the Wave Race universe, aren't we?