The Nintendo 64 was such a massive step up from the humble 16-bit Super NES, as Super Mario 64 had demonstrated with its spectacular three-dimensional graphical world, complete with fast and furious gameplay. However, some of Silicon Graphics' internal console techniques were only initially utilised in Wave Race. The water-based racing title was full of undulating waves that looked far more beautiful than ANY other water-related game on the market at that time. Even now it is truly amazing to watch others play the game, with a definite sense of being amidst the thunderous waves being portrayed. The only drawback was the racers themselves, but the water bikes (originally to be sponsored by Kawasaki before the company changed its mind at the Eleventh Hour), covered in various advertising slogans, plus the gorgeous lighting effects for the various times of day that races took place. Nintendo knew how to take advantage of its system right from the start, and Wave Race was a key example of this.
Audio-wise everything is above par as well, although considering the mixed opinions that other reviewers seem to have on this matter it could well just be personal preference talking here. What you basically have is cheesy Japanese rock and synth music that whilst might prove grating to some, comes off as extremely catchy, bright and breezy, which fits in perfectly with the watery conditions of the game. The only major drawback, though, as the sound effects are all well placed and suited (crowd noises, rushing waves and engine sounds that amazingly do not grate!), is that of the voice-overs. Terribly cheesy (this time in the bad sense of the word...), thick-accented Americans repeatedly holler at you as the race starts and for the rest of the challenge. Oh, my ears...
Now, it is reported on certain publications that Wave Race 64 was the first ever in the series, which is a somewhat flawed piece of information as it all originally began with a lame top-down version on the old Game Boy...which actually received a re-release on the back of this N64 sequel's success. Therefore, Nintendo's EAD, headed by none other than Shigeru Miyamoto himself, was set the task of taking the woeful handheld game and working it into something special for the launch of the new home console. Thankfully it succeeded on so many levels...
You are faced with nine various courses, each one with waves that are constantly undulating like crazy, sometimes so powerful that the strength of the bump will send you flying from your watercraft, whilst others are so gentle that they simply ASK for you to slide round corners to skim a little more time off your final result. The frequent changes to your surroundings means that there is great potential for fun on the limited amount of tracks, no matter how often you charge around them. That really shows the class difference between Nintendo First Party and Third Party efforts.
The Nintendo 64's ergonomic controller helps to maintain the perfect level of control and handling all the while, no matter which racer you choose to compete with. Each of the four characters has their own special traits, as would be expected from a quality racer, and the key is not just picking the easiest feeling one, but being able to finally master using the big brute that is David Mariner! And it IS possible thanks to the brilliantly intuitive mechanics and handling. Leaning into corners to avoid losing too much speed, positioning the nose of your Jet Ski when landing from large heights to prevent falling off and knowing how to use the changing wave patterns to your advantage for shortcuts (as an example), are all imperative for true mastery and aspects that do not frustrate, but encourage repeat plays.
The game is broken down into the Championship Mode that has players racing across eight courses, aiming to gain enough points to progress to the next round and striving to maintain top speed by manoeuvring around the Left and Right buoys that bob up and down in the sometimes treacherous waters. Other than that, on offer is the Time Trials, two player split-screen (which is quite slow in terms of frame-rate, and many wondered why it had not been made into a four-player outing considering how the N64 was being deemed as a multiplayer king) and a Stunt Mode. This last mode was particularly appealing due to the fluidity with which the spins, loops, and crazy moves such as riding whilst sat on the handlebars could be carried out. With great variety between the tracks as well -- ranging from foggy conditions to dark inner city locales and even icy tracks, Wave Race 64 was (and still remains) the best water-based racing game ever.
Unfortunately there are only a handful of different watercourses to play on and despite the varying difficulty levels this would normally not suffice in terms of replayability for solo players. However, the beauty of the gameplay means that trying to shave seconds off your Time Trial results becomes almost as addictive as when playing Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Then there is also the added inclusion of a wonderful stunt mode, secret Dolphin riding option and a (albeit limited) two-player split-screen challenge. It may not last you as long as you would like, but there is definitely enough to keep players placated and filled with delight for couple of months. And the most surprising factor is that it has survived time much better than its NST-developed GameCube sequel!