Career mode gives you the ability to take one of seven pro-wakeboarders throughout 10 real locales, and one training level to get your feet wet (har, har), of wet and wild entertainment, completing objectives and challenges throughout each level and receiving stat points along the way to boost your character’s abilities. Don’t worry about replay value; this game has plenty of that in one-player mode. And if you thought completing all of the objectives and challenges was difficult enough, the game includes a gap checklist. Each level has a certain number of gaps, ranging from 16 to 56 and if you feel the need to fully conquer the game you must hit and land every gap to give the game your 100% finished seal of approval. All I’m going to say is have fun with that. Completing various accomplishments give you gap keys, which unlock a little fly-by movie that shows you where the gap is. This is nice for us who don’t enjoy having to find each gap on our own. But be warned, even though it shows you where they are, hitting and landing the gaps are still difficult enough. You also get the chance to unlock three more wakeboards for each character and seven more movies for you to watch! What fun! Whee!!!
Then you have the two-player mode, which has tug-o-war, trick attack, horse, and of course, one of the better features, the co-op mode. All of the modes are really fun but I have to say I am more of a co-op guy than a competitor. There are three levels each with increasing difficulty in objectives and challenges. One player drives the boat while another is the wakeboarder, forcing you to talk with each other about where to go. Albeit there are only three levels, the difficulty of objectives and challenges will keep you playing. This is not a one-time deal, it’s challenging without seeming impossible, which is nice to see in a video game. Another nice aspect of co-op mode is that you have the option of either playing it full screen or split screen, either horizontal or vertical. Trick attack has you competing for the best score, and horse has you competing with each other to top your opponent’s tricks. If you don’t you get an “H”. If you spell H-O-R-S-E, you lose. Tug-o-war is interesting, to say the least. Take trick attack and add a blue vs. red slider to the bottom of the screen. When you land a trick the slider slides to fill it with more of your color. If you fill the slider with all of your color you win, but when your opponent lands tricks it fills it with their color. So essentially you’re pushing the slider back and forth until one of your has filled the slider with all of your color.
More menu selections give you the option to load/save your game, watch the videos you’ve unlocked, to increase or decrease the game’s volume, or to select/deselect songs from the 18 song playlist. The songs all fit the game really well, and if you get tired of one song you can de-checkmark it so it is unplayable. Something I would really like to see though, let’s see if they will release it for the final version, is the ability to put your own songs on the playlist. If they could integrate mp3s you have on your computer, and somehow let them be listened to while you are playing the game that would bring an extra wide smile to the faces of many people. Right now, the songs are getting on the edge of boring. Speaking of sound the sound effects are true to form, well the sound effects that there are. Being a wakeboarding game there really aren’t that many sound effects to speak of other than the splash of the water, the soft hum of the boat, the dull thuds whenever you grind an object or hit an obstruction, and the whip of the board when you pull tricks. So all in all, sound effects land is outstanding. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Over in the section of the gaming world we like to call gameplay, things are peaceful. The controls are quick, responsive, and fully customizable so things are good. An option we must consider is which is better, the keyboard or the gamepad? The keyboard is more precise when pulling tricks but when playing two-players your hands can get kind of cramped using the small space you have allowed yourself to work with for maximum fun, while trying to give your friend enough space on the keyboard to have fun and be comfortable as well. The gamepad and its wire give you and your friend that needed comfort and space, but the directional pad/analog stick isn’t near the precision of the keys on the keyboard. It all goes back to whatever you prefer. The game’s controls remind me a lot of the “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” controls, no big surprise consider Activision 02 did both. So if you enjoyed the level of simplicity of controls for “THPS” you will undoubtedly feel at home in the water.
The gameplay differs between the two games, of course, in many ways. In one-player mode you cannot explore your surrounding area as freely because you are being pulled along behind a boat with a set course. You can, however, let go of the rope you are holding, most effective while jumping the wake, to go places you haven’t seen and hit gaps that require a little independent trick busting. Letting go of the rope also gives you some combo bonuses, which is nice because it gives you that little extra multiplier when you need to complete that freehand point goal. Unfortunately, once you slow down and stop you appear behind the boat again, rope in hand, and no points gained. You can press a button to have the boat throw the rope back at you, only if it is close enough though, to catch it again and be on your merry way. If you go one way and the boat is traveling another, and suddenly a big rock cuts in between you the rope automatically detaches from your hands and you are now very alone, floating along the waters like a piece of trick busting driftwood. Fortunately, the computer’s AI is smart enough to know it doesn’t have its rider anymore, so it promptly turns around and speeds to pick you up. Sometimes it gets there, and sometimes is doesn’t.
Another different aspect is time. In “THPS” you had an actual time meter, which actually was let go in “THPS4” but I digress. In WBU you have the all-powerful groove meter. The groove meter is positioned in the top left of the screen and it is constantly ticking down the time you get to play on the water. If you bail or stop moving because you lost your boat it take a tiny chuck out of the already steadily decreasing meter. But never fear, the more tricks you land the more groove you get, but it gets harder and harder to fill the groove meter the longer you are on the water. There is also a special move bar that you fill, that once full allows you to perform the special tricks that the boarders have. The amount of special moves is under eight, but oh well, they’re special!