Prior to the launch of the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system it was widely expected that the format would receive any number of spin-offs from its home console brethren. While some Microsoft Studios franchises have made their way to the mobile Xbox format, with Fable and Crackdown leading the way, the likes of Forza Motorsport, Viva Pinata and even Halo are yet to offer handheld gaming experiences. Perhaps the most unlikely of those yet to make their way to the range of supported handsets however is the recently reborn Hydro Thunder series, in Hydro Thunder GO.
Hydro Thunder GO is a modernisation of the nineties series reborn on today’s consoles thanks to Microsoft Studios acquiring the rights after the original publisher, Midway, collapsed back in 2009. Following the well received Hydro Thunder Hurricane on Xbox LIVE Arcade, Hydro Thunder GO arrived on mobile formats less than a year later, bringing with it the same adrenaline rush gameplay and eccentric track design that the series originally became famous for. Unlike other franchise crossovers, there is no connection between Hydro Thunder Hurricane and Hydro Thunder GO, but when the gameplay compliments its host format so perfectly, there simply isn’t the need to pack in artificially engineered superficial features.
Hydro Thunder GO is simply a fantastic racing videogame squeezed onto a handheld format without dampening the experience. Many mobile racing titles have to adapt the formula of home console videogames at the expense of speed, handling, visual quality or a combination of all the above. However, with Hydro Thunder GO, Pixelbite Games has achieved the oft though unachievable: delivering a console quality experience on a mobile format without making any severe sacrifice.
Of course, the visual quality isn’t quite up to the standard of the Xbox 360’s Hydro Thunder Hurricane – though it is arguably as well presented as the Dreamcast edition of the first title in the Hydro Thunder series – but this doesn’t damage the experience one bit; Hydro Thunder GO is still a stunning mobile videogame. It could well be considered a trade-off, as one of Hydro Thunder GO’s greatest achievements is its sense of momentum. The videogame handles fast in it’s own right, but when players learn that boosts power-ups are plentiful – and that it is in fact possible to boost throughout an entire three-lap race – the high speed thrill ride encountered is unparalleled on mobile formats.
Hydro Thunder GO features some stunningly detailed backdrops, fantastic lighting effects and incredibly creative alternate routes. It can take several plays for each track to find the best route, and even then one small shortcut may elude you still. Huge jumps, fantastic handling and alternate routes are the bread-and-butter of Hydro Thunder GO, and given that there are nine tracks included in the package there’s plenty to master. In this basic respect alone, Hydro Thunder GO outshines the likes of Cro-Mag Rally and PAC-MAN Kart Rally with ease.
Wrapping-up the generous helping of exemplary mobile gameplay are three different gameplay modes. The basic Race mode presents a simple structure that offers bronze, silver or gold trophies for each difficulty on each track (difficulty is determined by the band of vehicle chosen). Of course, along with winning a trophy comes unlocks, such as new vehicles and more difficult tracks. The Time Trial mode features a Par time to beat, and the final mode, Hydro Blaze, is a different experience altogether.
With only four vehicles available, Hydro Blaze presents its own track and unique gameplay structure. Players must simply stay on the track for as long as possible; that being said, there’s nothing ‘simple’ about staying on the track. Racing at high speed, it’s not easy to grab every boost available and time jumps perfectly, but that’s the challenge laid out for you in order to stay on track and hit those leaderboards.
From that very first race to obtaining your last gold trophy, it’s easy to appreciate Hydro Thunder GO as being just as technically astute as the franchise’s arcade originator. The videogame boasts a soundtrack that is perfectly suited to the action and well presented for a mobile videogame, and Hydro Thunder GO is undeniably one of the best looking, fastest mobile racing videogames ever created. As far as racing videogames on Windows Phone 7 devices go there simply is no competition, and for mobile platforms in general, Hydro Thunder GO is one of the finest racing experiences available for any smartphone OS.