Watercraft racing games are usually distinguished from their land-based cousins by their more forgiving steering and physics, which make them a good fit for the iPhone’s tilt controls. Resolution Interactive’s Aqua Moto Racing is no exception. In fact, if we were rating purely by the game’s “feel,” it might very well be our favorite iPhone racer yet. The game has a few too many small holes for us to give it top marks, but it’s still a very impressive title overall, and easily recommendable.
The jetskis in Aqua Moto Racing are considerably more maneuverable than the larger craft you’ll find in games like Powerboat Challenge 3D, and that overall level of zippiness comes through in the game’s controls, which are second to none. Tilting the iPhone from side to side steers you back and forth (and you can tune the sensitivity to your liking), while touch strips on the right- and left-hand sides of the screen control your boost and your brake, respectively. It’s a very ergonomic arrangement, and the craft auto-accelerates, so you really only need to worry about managing your velocity around buoys and across straightaways. Plus, the developers have captured the physics of jetskiing to an uncanny degree, so there’s a natural connection between what your hands are doing and what’s happening on screen. You can also touch the bottom of the screen to quickly glance behind you, but we found that we hardly ever used this feature.
We have no complaints at all about Aqua Moto Racing’s graphics, which we’d say are just a touch under stunning. The textures, modeling, and animation are all very high quality, and they add even more visual juice to an already impressively realistic game. Even better, there’s no performance price to be paid for such finery–the framerate never gets sluggish no matter what you’re doing, and the game doesn’t seem to drain the battery too fast. Resolution’s engineers really know how to get the most out of the iPhone’s hardware.
Aqua Moto Racing features seven championships of increasing difficulty, as well as a time trial mode. The game’s 18 courses are built out of colored buoys across three environments (Emerald Bay, the Everglades, and Long Beach Port). You must pass red buoys to the right and yellow ones to the left, or bad things happen. When playing a championship against five CPU-controlled opponents, every miss drains your boost meter completely, and three misses disqualifies you. In a time trial, a miss tacks five seconds onto your heat time, which kills your chances of medaling or setting a world record. You don’t want to run into the buoys or any other terrain features either, because that puts you in the drink and slows you down a lot.
One of Aqua Moto Racing’s coolest features is jetski tuning, which allows you to customize your ride according to the course at hand. Every time you finish in the top 3 in a championship, you unlock tuning points to spend on your jetski’s top speed, acceleration, handling, or boost–and you can dynamically reassign them at the beginning of every race, unlike many other games with a tuning feature. Pumping up a category makes an enormous difference, too! Tight slaloms suddenly become a lot easier when you have handling maxed out, and a high top speed is great for open courses. There’s a real incentive to unlock every possible tuning point by winning all the championships, since competing with the top players online is otherwise impossible.
There are also occasional jump ramps planted in the middle of some courses. If you fly off of them with sufficient speed, you can throw the game into trick mode by swinging the iPhone towards you. At this point, the game drops into slow motion and offers you a menu of tricks ranging from easy (the Nac-Nac) to very tough (handstands and such). You earn bonus boost depending on a trick’s difficulty, how long you hold it, and whether you string several together, but it’s not really enough to make it worth the risk, in our opinion–it’s too easy to fall off your jetski and wreck your whole race. We’d like to see Resolution up the incentive to make it worthwhile.
Given Aqua Moto Racing’s otherwise excellent physics, the water you’re racing on is curiously placid. Rival riders don’t really generate a wake, and there are no disruptive waves or troughs to speak of. Adding some of these “terrain” features would make the game even more realistic, while giving the level designers more leeway to add challenge and nuance to the races. Another small complaint has to do with the lack of an overhead minimap or leader designator; we sometimes had trouble telling how far behind we were the leader and pacing ourselves accordingly during a race. Finally, this game cries out for an ad-hoc multiplayer mode.
Overall, though, Aqua Moto Racing is an accomplished racing game, and we had a great time with it. Only a handful of minor issues stand between it and Must Have status.