Retrospective: Surf Rocket Racers

Developed by CRI Middleware and released by Crave Entertainment in late 2000 in Europe and early 2001 in the rest of the world, Surf Rocket Racers picked up where Nintendo’s Wave Race 64 left off, and brought the world of jet skiing to the Sega Dreamcast. Confusingly, in Japan the game was published by CRI and released under the title Power Jet Racing 2001, meaning that in a tenuous way it could actually be considered a first party title (what with CRI, CSK and Sega's convoluted business relationship during that time).

Surf Rocket Racers is a lesser-known Dreamcast title that I stumbled upon recently as part of research for another project I’m currently working on, and it instantly appealed to me as a fine example of an arcade racer. If you’re bored of racing cars around street circuits, then this might just be the racing game you’ve been looking for.

Players must select one of the various characters on offer to start their jet skiing career. The usual suspects are on offer and you can decide if you want top acceleration, speed or handling whilst compromising the others. “Ryan” is the Super Mario of the group who has average stats in every category and thus a great starting point. Controlling your rider is about as simple as you could make it; with the right trigger being used to accelerate and the analogue stick being used to steer. A flick of the analogue stick in a direction will pull off a trick when jumping off a ramp, and that’s all there is to it.

I was slightly disappointed to discover that there aren’t too many tracks to race on, but there is enough variety across the different locations and routes here to keep you entertained. Racing takes place in venues such as the Bahamas, Manhattan, Rome and the Amazon. Each location has a short and medium route and each has a very unique and distinct colour palette and style. The background detail on each course is particularly impressive and as you ride past things like the Statue of Liberty or as dolphins jump out of the water in front of you, you can’t help but sit up and take notice.

Championship mode is the main attraction which is a standard affair of having to secure certain results in the races so that you can move up the ladder, unlocking new riders and courses as you progress. Beyond the Championship mode, you’ll find a Time Trial where you can flex your muscles against what your friends can muster, as well as a two-player multiplayer mode. If racing isn’t your bag, you can try your hand at the Tricks mode where you must complete a number of technical challenges, or the Hazards mode where you have to pop balloons on the course as you progress to build up your score, which is great fun.

Visually, Surf Rocket Racers is perfectly serviceable but nothing to write home about. The graphics are colourful and genuinely have a strong arcade feel to them, making the game good looking without having a wow-factor or texture details that push the hardware as much as it could have. The water effects are naturally going to be under scrutiny given the genre and they largely do a really good job of looking the part and reacting how you’d expect them to do; unpredictably. The water effect changes from venue to venue as well, adding some more additional variety.

Critics at the time of release generally gave Surf Rocket Racers a lukewarm reception, with the game receiving slightly above average review scores across the board. “Although pretty useful at what it does, Surf Rocket Racers is by no means the best in its sparsely populated field”, was the Eurogamer verdict, drawing further comparisons to Wave Race 64 which was released many years previously. Beloved Dreamcast magazine, DC-UK, called Surf Rocket Racers an “excellent title that provides a nice alternative to the road-based racers”, which is pretty much how I felt about it now; it’s a really nice change of pace.

To conclude this retrospective, it is worth pointing out that it is perfectly acceptable to have a great time with a game that isn’t known as an all time great. Surf Rocket Racers was a bit like uncovering a hidden gem for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the no fuss racing experience that the game offers. You’re not going to be blown away and it will likely never be in anybody's top ten game list, but it is a Dreamcast game that you can take a good few hours of enjoyment from. 

Tom also previously documented his thoughts on Surf Rocket Racers here and here, from when he picked up the game back in 2013. If you haven’t tried it out yet, I urge you to do so; you might be as pleasantly surprised as we were!

13 comments:

DCGX said...

This is one of the many (many) DC games I picked last fall on a whim. I haven't played it yet, because my copy is still sealed. It's a Dreamcast exclusive that (probably) will remain that way until the end of time.

Jaz said...

I'd recommend trying it somehow (emulation or GDEMU), for sure - even if you don't want to crack that seal. It's a real shame that buying Dreamcast games "on a whim" are becoming less and less likely with the ever increasing prices of both hardware and software!

Anthony817 said...

Definitely a fun game. If you are a fan of Wave Race 64 this is going to appeal to you. I played it a few times and liked it enough.

DCGX said...

@Jaz - I'll open it eventually, at some point.

Yeah, except for ultra-common games, it's hard to just come across DC games to just give a shot.

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

I love this game! But I have to say that Power Jet Racing 2001 is the DEFINITIVE version. It was released 4 months later (march 2001) and have much better particles effects, specially the splash water from your jet ski, which is tone down in Surf Rocket Racers. The game feels more "wet" with the bigger splash water in Power Jet Racing 2001. Control and frame rate rate were also improved. The trade-offs coming from some levels geometry have been removed (some ramps and other minor stuff), but, again, the tracks look and play less blockier and it also can be seemed as a improvement over the Crave/Ubisoft versions. In general I think this is a really underrated game, specially the Japanese version (there's videos on the Youtube with a guy playing both versions and showing off some of the differences). Another interesting fact is that WaveRunner GP is almost the Arcade Naomi Carbon Copy of this game. Also developed by CRI, released almost at the same time, is a shorter (with slight better visuals in some aspects) version of the game. The develop team is almost the same, with art director and most programmers been the same on both games. Only some roles were performed by different people (the director is different). In general I consider the japanese version a first party game, with medium to high profile investment from CRI.

Pizza Hotline said...

Great retrospective! SRR has always been on my perepherials when it comes to DC games but always slipped me by. Searching in retro game shops and the like this one has never popped us, perhaps a low production count? I see one currently on eBay for £224 which I do t think will ever sell for that price lol, hopeful reseller there. If I managed to find this game I will grab it!

Feedback: is it possible to have dates on each article of when they were published? I've been enjoying reading through the DCJYs older articles and have only been able to date them by their comments. Thanks!

a said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
a said...

^^About the comment above^^

Just realized that when on the DCJY on my phone it shows the published date of each article but when on my browser (Chrome and Opera) it doesn't!

Anthony817 said...

@JúlioSlayer Oliveira Wow that is awesome! After comparing gameplay from the 2 versions, Power Jet Racing 2001 absolutely looks nicer. It has actual bow spray coming off the hull of the jet ski, and you can see sun flare as well as other nicer effects. It indeed ran faster in game too. Thanks for pointing out that this version is actually superior.

You can compare the 2 games here in these 2 videos below.

Surf Rocket Racers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7coBo8IxXE

Power Jet Racing 2001
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX9mH8iCPNI

DCGX said...

Well, fuck. Now I have to get 'Power Jet Racing 2001.'

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

@Anthony817, Yeah! I've Played both like hell back then, mainly when I discover (by chance, reading some old magazine) that Power Jet Racing 2001 was a much better version and really looks and plays different from the west version. I was always a water racing games fan. Hydro Thunder is the king on the Dreamcast reign, of course (and one of my favorite games ever!!), but Power Jet Racing has the advantage of being a project made from scratch to Dreamcast (and remains a DC exclusive). It has less action and animations around the tracks, but has some better textures (like the mountains on Amazon river track). Aqua GT is the worst water game on the Dreamcast, but still have some nice features (the boats looks beign slighly higher poly count than the ones on Hydro Thunder). I Think Aqua GT was held back in some aspects (like in the draw distance) for being a PS1/Dreamcast all together project. Even with these issues is a 6,5/10 game in my opinion. It's important to remember that Aqua GT was developed by Promethean Designs Ltd, the same team that made the (good) VR Sports Powerboat Racing for PS1 in 1997, so they already had some experience in water racing games.

I expected to see, one day, some prototype from Thunderboats, that could be the forth water racing game on Dreamcast, but was cancelled sometime in 2000. Looks like a Hydro Thunder clone, but it would be really cool to have some late build from the game to see the tracks, water effects and how de boats handling.

Some preview from the game:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSp4MfFf5aw

And news at the time the game was in development:

https://www.gamespot.com/articles/first-look-thunderboats/1100-2450889/

Back to the Power Jet Racing 2001/Surf Rocket Racers subject, Crave said, at the time (in interviews to EGM, Official Dreamcast Magazine, etc) that they could change slight or sometime more radical details in the localization process from their games for the Dreamcast. In some games, like Surf Rocket Racers, they did some bad choices/decisions, like tune down the water spray (which is essential in a "wet racing game").

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

@DCGX, I think that really worth it \o/