It’s not hard to see where the developers of Aqua Moto Racing Utopia drew inspiration from when it comes to how the game plays. The idea of a hi-res game that blends Wave Race 64 and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater sounds like a dream come true to anyone that grew up with a Nintendo 64. The fast, frantic racing that comes with jet skis mixed with the stunts and tricks of a legendary skating game are ingredients in a winning recipe to be sure. Now if only they had picked a better name.
Game modes in Aqua Moto Racing Utopia include campaigns in three separate styles (runabout, ski, and freestyle), custom races, leisure mode where you cruise around and practice, time attack, and stunt mode. The real meat of the game is in the campaigns or championship modes where you compete for first place and progressively unlock harder and faster tournaments, which also unlocks new vehicles to utilize in other modes. After a brief and simple character creation process you are free to hop into any game mode you like.
The moment you jump into your first race in Aqua Moto Racing Utopia you know what you’re in for. If you’ve played Wave Race 64 at all or even if you just have an inkling of how that game controls, you’ll know what’s going on. Using one trigger to accelerate and the other to cut sharp turns, you race other jet ski riders in curved waterways, all the while making sure to go inside or outside of certain buoys. If you miss three of those buoys you are disqualified and have to restart the race, simple as that. During these races you gain turbo for properly cutting the buoys or doing stunts off of ramps. Turbo enables you to get a quick burst of speed that is best used on straightaways as controlling your jet ski is nearly impossible when it's used. Enabling turbo after a big jump to steal first place is a feeling akin to launching that blue shell and winning the race right at the end.
The game controls wonderfully in races, with my only gripe being that at the start of the race it’s easy to run into one another, which leads to a lot of bumping and overall chaos that just doesn’t fit the game. Where the game seems to stagger in terms of controls is the stunt system. Stunts are done by moving the right analog stick in a combination of directions. You can also hold LB and use the right analog stick for additional maneuvers. This stunt system can sometimes be unwieldy and a lot of the stunt levels are setup in a way that makes it difficult to chain together stunts and therefore hit the score you need to complete the level. I was able to get the scores I needed to move on but I often felt like I was cheating the system but utilizing easy-to-complete moves over and over. Despite that, I still had a fair amount of fun performing tricks and watching my racer do backflips with a jet ski, even if that meant crashing into the water on more than one occasion.
To say Aqua Moto Racing Utopia looks beautiful is an understatement. The visuals that range from beaches to swamps to oil tankers are vibrant and varied in some truly terrific ways. The water itself is the star of the show and it pops in every level. Weather it’s the clear blue water of the tropics, the cloudy water of the swamps, or the royal blue water of the event stadium, it always looks great. It also helps that there is no slowdown whatsoever in the races, keeping the action moving and feeling smooth the entire way through. Racers look great, as do their jet skis, and watching competitors jump off ramps and crash, thus losing their place in the race, never gets old.
What was unfortunate is the lack of multiplayer users at the moment. As a relatively new and under the radar game, there aren’t a ton of users online. I only managed to get into a handful of games but I can also see this game being a great local co-op game as well. With a decent number of modes and a solid core gameplay system, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia has the opportunity to surprise a lot of people. While it has some rough edges like its trick system not being easy to utilize and some issues at the start of races with overall chaos, I found myself having a lot of fun with the game more often than not and I’ll probably be heading back into the game to continue beating my best times and shaving that last second off wherever I can.