Wave Break review: radical, brutal, awkward

Like many other kids from the 90s / 100s, I grew up playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, with its fantastic combination of arcade gameplay and rad soundtrack. When we first saw Wave Break, a timed exclusive “First on Stadia” title that takes the familiar skateboard genre and adds guns, “cute” animals, and lots of retro ’80s aesthetics, they sold me. But does it live up to that hype?

The skateboarding game genre started a new revival in the past year, with a relaunch of the first two Tony Hawk games in September, as well as the long-awaited Skate 4 that finally unfolded. Clearly, it’s the right time to get back to the strongly nostalgic gameplay, and Wave Break is, if you pardon the pun, riding that wave.

At first Wave Break looks like Tony Hawk’s Professional Skater, with a control scheme that should be very familiar, A to jump, Y to grind, X to flip, B to grab, etc. However, once you touch the water, a new dynamic comes into play, as the ocean will splash, ripple, and churn, which is completely different from the hard concrete that most skating fans are familiar with.

I found that the physics of the game in general, and especially the dynamics of the water, took a couple of hours to adjust. Even then, the controls and physics never feel as clean and tight as you might expect, leaning more towards the awkward than the precise.

I made the mistake of spending my first few hours of Wave Break playing campaign mode, eager to understand the world and the premise of the game. In the campaign, you play a (usually) cute teddy bear by the name of Big Pin, working on a checklist of tasks to be completed at a particular location.

These tasks include skating classics, such as collecting all of the “COMBO” lyrics in a single-motion combo, as well as proper story missions that feel like mini Miami Vice episodes. In a memorable example, he retrieves a stolen bag of his “product” labeled “flour” to be returned to his “customers” who are partying around a rooftop pool.

However, until you’ve mastered Wave Break physics, developed your muscle memory, and improved your character, all of these missions are absolutely brutal, due to the campaign’s ever-present two-minute timer and less-than-clean level design of the game. While enforcing a timer has long been a staple of skating games, it feels frustrating in 2020 and is exacerbated by the lack of a quick reset option.

Instead, you can choose to finish a race sooner, after which the game processes the goals you did or probably didn’t finish, and finally allows you load the level again. This extended cycle of repeatedly trying and not completing a level’s tasks, just to wait for the level to reload, gradually became my biggest source of frustration with Wave Break.

As much as I wanted to experience more of the story-oriented campaign missions, which sadly don’t seem to offer a way to be played back, I discovered that the true magic of Wave Break is in the other modes of the game. Free Play and Time Attack allow you to spend more time getting to know each of the four levels and mastering the art of joining tricks to accumulate an incredibly high score.

Of course, there’s still one more thing about Wave Break that I’ve intentionally avoided mentioning until now, and those are the weapons.

Undoubtedly, the Miami Vice fantasy would be incomplete without the ability to frivolously fire weapons at other animals and ships, but at the same time, the weapons just feel attacked, anyway in most modes. In the single player campaign, you will rarely need to use your weapon, and in multiplayer Time Attack mode, it seems absolutely strange be able to literally shoot and kill your skating partner to break their combos.

However, Wave Break’s Deathmatch mode is a weirdly fun, hybrid, arcade-style game where skating takes the back seat as you unleash a hail of bullets at your opponents, collect money, get better weapons, and repeat the process. However, the experience is not for everyone.

Throughout the game, the original Wave Break soundtrack, filled with stellar recovery tracks, manages to cement the 80’s / Miami Vice vibe and bring you into a perfect Zen state for nailing combos. Coinciding with the release of Wave Break, part of the soundtrack is also available on music streaming services and tracks like “Wake up!” It is worth listening to.

Over the past week, I’ve formed what feels like a love-hate relationship towards Wave Break. I love it for what it promises, a fun and imaginative remake of the skate genre. I hate it for what it is, a brutal and sometimes clumsy imitation of a game that was once loved by millions.

All said and done, however, Wave Break is a difficult game to quell, as irritating as it can be, because in essence, it is just plain funny. I can see myself easily going back to Wave Break every once in a while, if only for a few minutes to relax with some retrowave jams in free play mode.

Wave Break is now available in the Google Stadia store as an exclusive “First on Stadia” for a limited time for the slightly high price of $ 29.99.

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