From the development studio behind Beach Buggy Racing - a racer similar in many ways to Mario Kart - comes a fresh port of its water-based take on the genre: Riptide GP: Renegade. Opening with a cut-scene showing your character getting busted for competing in illegal races, this game has the potential to fill that Jet Ski version of Need For Speed: Most Wanted you never knew you wanted - the career mode even sees you tracking down key racers to invite them to join your group! Anyway, let’s dive in.
As you’d expect from pretty much any racing game, you’ll be competing against several opponents (in this case there are eight participants in each race), speeding around various tracks to hopefully get the victory. What sets this game apart is that all races take place on waves that change dynamically - so in one race you'll start a race when a storm is raging with waves that swell really high (and are therefore much harder to navigate).
Each circuit has a number of interactive objects such as ramps that enable you to perform stunts. These stunts (activated by creating combos with control stick movements) add some power to your boost meter, enabling you to speed up for a short while whenever you choose. An intricate balance of perfecting your tricks – which will fail and set you back if you land them incorrectly – and using your boosts at the most opportune times will help you to master the basics.
The game’s main area of focus - and easily the best way to spend your time within it - is its career mode. Here, you’ll find yourself entering various types of competition such as straight races, elimination rounds, slalom courses, and freestyle events where you need to master various tricks. As you make your way through these events, the money you earn can go towards enhancing your rides, helping you to keep up with other racers as they start to dish out faster times.
These enhancements can add extra power to your acceleration, top speed, handling, and boost capabilities, and as you progress you’ll unlock more and more hydro jets that have a greater scope for bigger and better mechanical improvements. You’ll also be earning skill points that can be spent on fixed abilities such as an improved starting speed for races, or better trick-to-boost meter earnings, and you can even fully customise the colour, decals, and racing number for each vehicle.
After the first handful of events, the career mode becomes seriously tough. You might find yourself needing to grind through some earlier tracks at various stages, just to build up enough money to fully upgrade your current hydro jet to stand a chance at winning. Police jets add to your problems after a while, too; in some races, these pesky blighters start to speed alongside you, bashing into your vehicle and ruining your perfectly lined up jumps and cornering. Of course, these are likely in place as a way of increasing difficulty in harder stages, but the random nature of their movements mean that they can’t always be avoided with even the best driving skills, leaving the player occasionally frustrated from being constantly hindered.
In addition to the career mode, you can jump into quick races just for fun or compete against other players in split-screen, or online multiplayer. The online races run smoothly and you have the option to join or create either public, or private games (although the online rooms seem very empty at present). Split-screen supports up to four players, with a few pre-determined selections from the game’s nine different courses available to select.
The multiplayer options are, of course, a very welcome addition, but the most interesting part of this game is the development and growth of your team in the career. The circuits and pure racing alone are fun, but not to the extent where you’ll likely want to play hours and hours of multiplayer races. Also, if you play with a single Joy-Con, the game makes up for the reduced amount of buttons by simply accelerating your hydro jet for you; all that’s left for you to do is steer, boost, and pull off tricks (which move to the face-buttons). If you’re wanting the full multiplayer experience, you’ll want to be holding a full controller each.
We noticed the occasional hiccup in the game’s frame rate, but overall everything runs very smoothly indeed and the minor drops we encountered didn’t hinder our experience. The courses are attractive places to race around, and the menus and user interface have a sleek, almost professional feel to them which add to the game’s overall style. From its appearance and gameplay structure alone, this title does feel like an improvement over the studio’s last effort on Switch.
In fact, the overwhelming feeling we have after playing this game is largely positive; the racing is fun, the career gives a good sense of progression, and the customisation options make you care about upgrading your vehicles. If the police jets weren’t so frustrating – perhaps only targeting the racer in first place to even out the field, rather than just punishing you even if you’re stuck near the back – and there was a little more incentive to play multiplayer, we could have had a truly wonderful racer on our hands.
Riptide GP: Renegade boasts many of the qualities that you would hope for from a racing game; a rewarding career mode, a solid racing experience, and – delightfully – a rather different element in the way that the waves throw you around a little. There are some little niggles and difficulty spikes that keep it from sitting alongside the best of the genre, and there isn’t quite enough fun in the racing alone for multiplayer to be particularly exciting, but if you’re after a slightly different racing game to dip in and out of on the fly, this wouldn’t be a bad choice, especially for the asking price.