Nintendo make wonderful games; I think if you’re reading this then there’s every chance that you agree. However, if there’s one criticism that I could aim at them it’s that they often play it too safe. Whilst the last five years have seen the release of two major new franchises (Splatoon and ARMS), the same five years has also seen the release of close to 30 Mario themed games across various platforms. Now, I love Mario as much as the next gamer, but Nintendo have a wealth of franchises which have been neglected, in some cases for generations and new entries are long overdue. In this series I will explore some of Nintendo’s forgotten franchises and just how they might return in the future, starting with Wave Race.
For the uninitiated, Wave Race is a racing game in which players race on Jet Skis across a range of different courses. During these races they must navigate around obstacles such as buoys and try to reach the finish before other racers. Wave Race is also a series that has a special place in my heart, largely because it was one of the first games I owned on my first Nintendo system, the Game Boy. That is not to say that Wave Race on the Game Boy is an especially good game. It has a top-down perspective, slightly clumsy controls, and occasionally unfair difficulty spikes. That said it’s also remarkably addictive and a whole lot of fun! Playing it now, it’s very obviously a game of its time and perhaps not one to urgently seek out in 2020 but given the time and the limited hardware it was a pretty good first effort. Although this was the first entry in the series it had a rather strange release schedule, launching in 1992 in North America but not until 1997 in Europe (shortly after its successor). Weirdly it never had an official release in the country where it was developed, Japan.
Whilst the Game Boy game was a relative success given its limited release, the series really took off with Wave Race 64, the sequel, and an early Nintendo 64 game. Wave Race 64 was again developed in-house by Nintendo EAD and released to universal acclaim, shortly after the release of the N64. It was a truly remarkable title, shifting to full 3D visuals and moving the perspective from top-down to a rear camera which followed the player. The water-rendering and wave-based physics were leaps and bounds ahead of anything at the time, being praised for their incredible realism. Not only that but it was also an excellent racing game in its own right, with a respectable level of challenge and sharp, precise controls which made brilliant use of the Nintendo 64’s innovative analogue stick. It also had a variety of modes, featuring Championship, Time-Trial, Stunt-Mode and even a multiplayer mode for competitive play. The presentation was bright and colourful with distinctly cheesy 80’s styling and excitable over-the top announcers which were similar in style to many arcade games of the time. Wave Race 64 wasn’t perfect, being criticised in some quarters for being quite short, however it made up for this with its immense replay value. Even today, almost 25 years on from its original release, Wave Race 64 remains remarkably playable and fun, a testament to its quality.
Wave Race 64 was followed by Wave Race: Blue Storm, a launch title for the GameCube. This time development shifted to another Nintendo Studio, NST, a studio that are now better known for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Blue Storm used the template from Wave Race 64, improving the visuals and adding an advanced weather system which could affect course layout and the wave physics. The weather system was an exceptional addition and added a great deal of replay value and strategy to the game, with extreme weather leading to strong powerful waves which could easily knock you off course. Whilst playing the championship you could select which track to approach based on the weather forecast and this could be the difference between successfully winning a race or falling into last place. Weather could even change during a race, meaning you would need to adapt your style on the fly, this was completely unique to Blue Storm at the time and elevated it ahead of its peers. The modes from the previous game also returned, along with many of the characters and tracks, this led to some criticism however as the game felt overly familiar and, weather system asides, resulted in a game which felt very much like a prettier version of Wave Race 64. Stylistically it dropped the arcadey, 80’s style of the first game, replacing it with a more realistic style in keeping with other sports games of the time. Personally, I felt this resulted in a game with less personality but that is perhaps more down to personal taste. One other significant change was to the controls which this time required much more precision, including careful use of the GameCube’s analogue triggers. This did however result in increased difficulty and garnered some criticism for making the game less accessible than its N64 predecessor. Despite some minor criticisms, Wave Race Blue Storm was released to generally favourable reviews and was the third-best selling launch title for the GameCube in North America, behind Luigi’s Mansion and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader.
Sadly, despite reasonable sales figures, Blue Storm would be the last time we would see a Wave Race game, with the exception of virtual console re-releases. In fact, the closest we would get to a new Wave Race in the years that followed would be the inclusion of Power Cruising in 2009’s Wii Sports Resort. It has now been almost 20 years since the last game in the series, but if Nintendo were to release a new Wave Race game in the near future, what might it look like?
The first and option for Nintendo would be to create a full-blown, new Wave Race game that builds on earlier games but brings the visuals and modes up to modern standards, adding features such as online multiplayer and leaderboards. This is perhaps the most appealing option to long term fans of the series, but I also believe it to be the least likely because of the costs involved. Wave Race has always been a solid but unexceptional seller and it seems unlikely Nintendo would dedicate huge resources to a new game which has no guarantees of being a big hit.
Another option might be to a create a smaller, e-shop game. This could potentially be closer in style to the Game Boy game, reverting to a top down perspective. Nintendo has previous form for doing this with another one of its sports franchises, Excitebike, releasing the brilliant Excitebike World Challenge as an e-shop only title on the Wii. This game followed the template of the NES original rather than the more advanced N64 title. This would require less extensive resourcing and could be sold as a digital only title, it would also gauge interest in future entries in the series.
The final and perhaps most likely option could be a remaster or re-release of the GameCube game. Blue Storm is still very playable even today and unlike the N64 version it is still quite visually appealing, particularly if it were to be upscaled to a modern resolution. This would represent the lowest risk option for Nintendo and again would gauge interest in the series which could lead to a more full-fledged entry down the line. It could even follow in the footsteps of Nintendo’s NES/SNES re-releases for the Switch which added online multiplayer modes.
Having been dormant for almost two decades it seems unlikely that we’ll see a new Wave Race in the near future, yet many would have said the same for another long absent franchise, Streets of Rage which saw a new entry this year after a 26 year absence. Nintendo themselves recently announced a new entry in another long absent series, with the unveiling of New Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo Switch coming 21 years since the release of the original. Certainly, with the success of the Nintendo Switch it seems more plausible than ever that Nintendo could finally revisit this series. Nintendo have also dropped hints that the series could come back, with Shinya Takahashi (who worked on Wave Race 64) suggesting at the BAFTA’s in 2018 that we might see that game again. Nintendo also renewed patents for a number of series, including Wave Race, earlier this year. With the success of the Switch and the wider audience it has attracted there has never been a better of time for this series to make a comeback.
Would you like to see a new Wave Race? Which other forgotten Nintendo franchises would you like to see revisited as part of this series? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
I have been gaming for 30 years, starting mostly with PC Gaming, where I developed a penchant for classic point and click games. Over time I discovered Nintendo, starting with the Game Boy and the Super Mario Land games. Here, my love for Nintendo grew as I discovered many of their other franchises, from Zelda to Pokémon. These days I play a bit of everything but Nintendo and their unique creativity always keeps me coming back for more.