The New Champ
No one saw Riptide GP coming. Developed by a core team of only two people, the uber-indie racer managed to blow away the AAA developers in just about every way. Not only was it a graphical powerhouse, with beautiful water effects and detailed environments, but it boasted some genuinely great physics and gameplay that elevated it beyond the simplistic steering exercises of other games on the platform. Now, after a couple of original titles, developer Vector Unit has returned to their biggest hit in the hopes of building on that foundation.
Riptide GP’s core mechanics have always been excellent. The futuristic watercraft racer mixes the water simulation and wave physics of games like WaveRace with the wild, winding tracks and speedy boosts of WipeOut, making for a game that feel very different from just about everything else. Not since Jet Moto has anyone really attempted to blend these two styles, and Vector Unit pulls it off with a wild sense of motion and tight feel that Jet Moto never could.
This basic gameplay hasn’t changed much. You careen around relatively narrow, winding courses full of ramps and waves to send you soaring through the air. While airborne, you can slide your fingers on the screen to perform various tricks, and these in turn fill up a meter that allows you to perform speed boosts. In the first game, being able to perform different tricks was largely superficial, as all the tricks yielded the same rewards. For the sequel, the trick system has been overhauled. There are now far more tricks, with higher level stunts requiring both more difficult motions and longer hang times to perform. These higher level tricks mean bigger bonuses to your boost, and more boost in turn helps to hit ramps with enough velocity to do better tricks. It’s a small change that ends up greatly increasing the depth and strategy of the game.
Even two years later, the original Riptide is a graphical stunner, but Vector Unit has dialed things up quite a bit for the sequel. There’s now a detailed PC-like graphics options menu, showcasing some of the many new effects, including refractive water splashes, normal mapped waves, and motion blur, all of which can be disabled or enabled based on the needs of your device. Despite all these enhancements, the game actually performs at a similar frame rate to the original with most of these effects turned on; a genuinely impressive feat.
By far the biggest shortcoming of Riptide GP was its barebones campaign. Consisting of only six tracks (with normal and reverse variants), it offered nothing more than a series of races to place on, and could be completed in less than an hour. With no multiplayer and not much to unlock, this left little to do but compete on the leaderboards for the best times.
Career Mode at Last
This has all changed in the sequel, which now has a robust career mode. Events now come in four different types, adding some much needed variety, and placing in the top three earns you stars to unlock further events. There are also complete upgrade and leveling systems for your vehicle and your rider respectively, allowing you to bump up specs, learn new tricks, or just buy entirely new crafts. These upgrade elements also mean that challenging some of the stages can depend a bit on grinding or revisiting old levels rather than pure skill, but it greatly extends the life of the game. Most of the events can be completed in under two minutes, which is perfect for the short attention span of the mobile format, but the campaign itself will take players many hours to get through.
And then there’s the highly-anticipated addition of multiplayer. This was perhaps the most glaring omission from the original, and it’s good to see Vector Unit finally step up. There’s a disappointing lack of good matchmaking options – only a quick match or a match with invited friends – but everything performs well. The matches we tried were smooth and lag-free, and the gameplay is a perfect fit for heated competitive matches. Some more options like event types and AI bots would have helped, but the foundation is excellent.
Riptide is as close to a AAA game as we have seen on Android. Its physics and mechanics are worthy of a console release, its controls nearly flawless, and its campaign rich and lengthy. It takes the impressive fundamentals of the first game, and without seriously altering them, turns it into a deeper, richer, more complete game than its barebones arcade-like predecessor. Mobile racing has a new champion, and Vector Unit should take a victory lap.
Jaw-dropping graphics and physics combine with incredibly fun gameplay and new gameplay modes to make for a game that is not only a great mobile racer, but excellent by any standard.