An arcade racer set in a future full of high-tech Jet Skis
The oddball racing games that were all the rage in the late '90s and early 2000s
Riptide GP: Renegade brings me back to the heyday of arcade racers, when the moniker meant more than just 'the driving physics are a little more forgiving'. Without trying to sound like some old curmudgeon shaking his wrinkled fist behind a plastic wheel, racing games these days all seem to neatly fit in the 'kart racer' or 'photorealistic simulation' categories, with few titles occupying the vast creative space in between. But Riptide, an unassuming, budget-priced hydro jet racer, is a smorgasbord of callbacks to the unconventional racing games that were commonplace just over a decade ago.
I'm talking about the racing games that resonate with countless childhoods. Water-based racers like Jet Moto, Wave Race 64, or - my personal favorite - Hydro Thunder, all brimming with memorable tracks and dazzling setpieces. The games (not named F-Zero) that self-confidently set the competition in futuristic utopias with bizarre aesthetics, like Wipeout, Extreme-G, Kinetica, and Trickstyle. SSX and its progeny like Freekstyle and Downhill Domination, which made busting out gnarly tricks essential to achieving maximum speeds. Even obscurities like Jet X2O and Splashdown - if merely reading the names of any of those aforementioned racers causes a wave of nostalgia to wash over you, Riptide GP: Renegade is well worth checking out.
Riptide GP got its start as a mobile series, but Renegade - the third in the series - was built to thrive on consoles. It's set in a paradoxical future: one where high-speed hydro jet racing is seemingly illegal, yet invitingly raceable waterways crisscross through many a white-and-chrome metropolis, laser mining facility, and even the submerged skyscrapers of a post-flood city. Riptide's developer Vector Unit cut its teeth on Hydro Thunder Hurricane, the XBLA successor to Midway's aquatic racer, and Renegade shows clear signs of that same appreciation for exotic racetracks full of choppy waves and ramps that launch you into some major airtime. There are even little throwbacks that feel pitch-perfect, like cops on watercraft who are hellbent on halting the race, aggressively trying to run you off the waves even at risk to their own lives.
Evaluating the ebb and flow of the tides is crucial to success in Renegade. Every time you pull off a particularly sweet stunt, you accrue some much-needed booster fuel - but if you misjudge the hang time you'll score off a ramp or huge wave and overcommit to a flashy move, you're headed for a ragdoll-inducing tumble that'll torpedo your chances at taking the gold. The tricks themselves are all lovingly animated, evoking the same reckless disregard for safety as SSX's high-flying, point-scoring feats of derring-do. And rather than the shoulder-button trick inputs of SSX, Riptide employs a unique system of flicking both analog sticks in various directions to pull off the desired move.
Beyond the super solid racing mechanics, there's plenty to like about Renegade's presentation. It'll take a good long while to complete the lengthy Career mode, which actually incorporates light story elements full of droid mentors and tough-talking rivals you can eventually win over to your side. The techno tracks that accompany each race are fairly bland, but I found a certain charm to their simplicity. And after years of Mario Kart going easy on me with its start-of-the-race boosts that are all but assured, I'm enthralled with how tricky it is to consistently hit Riptide's out-of-the-gate acceleration. The payoff for nailing the timing, besides a much-needed speed boost, is a satisfying lightning strike to your engine that still delights me every time I manage to get it.
Renegade does have a few rough edges: there are only nine tracks total (though you can race in multiple modes on each), and while I find the graphics to be perfectly fine, the muted color palette feels like an odd choice for this kind of arcade racer. But that's just it - Riptide GP: Renegade feels so authentic to that distinct brand of arcade racing you so rarely encounter these days. Even its flaws feel like a callback to the uniquely different racers of yesteryear, and in that sense, it does just about everything right. If you've ever thought that they just don't make arcade racers like they used to, Renegade - and really, the whole Riptide series - is for you.
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