*A review code was provided by the developer for this review.
Nintendo has a lot of IP that it hasn’t touched in eons, and one of them, in particular, is the Wave Race franchise. The series has been MIA for over 16 years, but there are still fans who hope a new release will come about someday. In the meantime, indie studio Zordix has created Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, which borrows a lot from the aforementioned Nintendo series. In a way, it’s as if Wave Race actually has returned…except this feels like a budget version.
When I said Aqua Moto Racing Utopia ‘borrows’ a lot from Wave Race, what I really meant is that it basically just lifts the entire gameplay formula from that series. The problem is that, despite copying Wave Race’s formula, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is very unrefined. This is equivalent to a student copying their friend’s homework, but doing so with poor handwriting and somehow getting a lot of the answers wrong despite the originals being correct. Probably an even better analogy would be like walking into a store or browsing through eBay and seeing some cheap knock-off product that is trying so hard to look genuine, but the badly Photoshopped packaging with Google Translated-English text clearly gives it away. The point is, this game wants to be Wave Race, but it just isn’t.
The gameplay is exactly the same concept: you need to pass as close as possible to the buoy-shaped checkpoints in each course. The closer you are to a checkpoint, the higher your score. The real challenge comes in with the checkpoints being positioned in a way where you have to constantly make sharp turns and try to keep yourself oriented as you zig-zag your way through the course. In theory, that’s pretty simple and doesn’t seem like it should be hard to imitate. But that’s just the thing, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia’s weakest area is the area where no game should be weak: the controls.
A lot of the time, the jet skis feel like rocket-powered blocks running across the water. As much as I tried to keep my speed in check, more often than not it was just frustrating. Added to that is the aforementioned scattered placement of the checkpoints; you’re supposed to be twisting and turning quite often, but since the controls are so slippery, this can be a nightmare. To make matters worse, some courses have very rough waves, so I ended up spending a lot of time being catapulted into the air while still trying to twist and turn to pass the checkpoints. As you could imagine, that’s just infuriating. What makes this in particular even more annoying, is that these courses are more enclosed than the others, so I would end up being flung into invisible walls a lot of the time.
The game’s core formula is exactly the same as Wave Race, except not nearly as refined.
In addition to the checkpoint races, there are also stunt levels. This is yet another feature that was shamelessly lifted from Wave Race, but is now being executed in a very poor manner. Just when I thought the steering was bad, the trick system is even worse. Everything just feels incredibly loose, floaty, and it’s as if the game is working against you most of the time. Often I’d just end up getting slammed into the water when trying to pull off a trick. The one saving grace is that the ‘A’ button functions as the automatic trick button. While it can’t be spammed since using it causes a cooldown meter to appear, it’s a whole lot easier than trying to pull off tricks on your own.
Really, the only thing that didn’t bother me excessively was the game’s presentation, and that’s mostly only because of the water effects. They look decent, but then again it would’ve been quite upsetting if a racing game that takes place exclusively on the water didn’t have nice looking water effects. Another nice thing is that the resolution is at 1080p and anti-aliasing also appears to be enabled; so overall the visuals are sharp and the framerate is also smooth. Textures are reasonably nice, although it’s hard to be totally pleased with that because the models of everything are so basic. The racers, jet skis and scenery objects all look very generic. It really seems like the developers just lifted the assets that came included in whatever game engine they used to create this and called it a day. This doesn’t make the game look ugly, just boring. The bright color palette does help alleviate this to a degree, but it’s noticeable regardless. Like the visuals, the sound is also pretty generic. All of the songs are pretty forgettable. The motor sounds of the jet ski engines are decent enough, though.
— THE BOTTOM LINE —
Aqua Moto Racing Utopia isn’t a bad game, it’s just a bad imitation.
As you can most likely tell, I wasn’t all that impressed by Aqua Moto Racing Utopia. The thing is, it’s not a bad game per say, it’s just a bad imitation. If it’s gameplay formula were original, then maybe I would feel more forgiving, but like I said in the beginning, this is pretty must just like a knock-off of Nintendo’s own Wave Race. I had more fun riding the jet skis in Namco Bandai’s Go Vacation on the Wii, and that was with full motion controls and the game wasn’t even purely dedicated to that activity—it was just something you could do. I have to say I’ve never fully played a Wave Race game, but just by looking at some footage of both the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube entries, I could see that the original formula offers tighter controls and overall more polished gameplay. The reviews verify that.
I really wanted to like this game, because the Switch currently doesn’t have a lot of racing games at all. Ironically, I think that’s the only thing that helps Aqua Moto Racing Utopia’s case. So, I guess you could say it wins some points circumstantially. I wanted to look at this game’s flaws from the perspective of “it came from a small indie studio”, but that really isn’t an excuse. Time-and-again indie titles from small studios are released and they turn out to be of high-quality. Two excellent examples would be FAST RMX from Shin’en Multimedia and Rocket League from Psyonix. Both of these games are also on Switch, and while Rocket League technically isn’t a racer, it’s totally reliant on driving mechanics. Both of these titles are of much higher quality. FAST RMX is the best example in this case since Shin-en is also made up of only a handful of devs, yet they were able to deliver a game with solid gameplay and visuals that are some of the best on Switch. To really keep it real, FAST RMX also happens to be an imitation of a Nintendo game (F-Zero), but at least Shin’en had the decency to copy the formula very well and even included a bit of an original flare. With that said, I consider Aqua Moto Racing Utopia to just be a sub-par release. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just not great. Maybe casual/younger race fans might find some enjoyment out of it, but don’t jump into this pool unless you find standing around in the shallow end to be fun.