Wave Break is exactly what it says it is. A skateboating game, that is- a skateboarding game with boats. But Wave Break may not be exactly what you think.
I was so excited for this game when I was first given the opportunity to interview the Funktronic Labs, the development team behind Wave Break, about it. It seemed a refreshing take on a genre that’s due for a comeback. First you got these cute little sea creatures riding around on skateboards, only they’re not skateboards they’re boats. Oh, and you get to shoot stuff, too. This mechanic was an interesting one for me, especially as you typically see it more in racing games, which for some (including myself) gives the impression that this is more of a racing style game. I was quickly shut down by Kalin (Co-Founder of Funktronic Labs) on this notion when I mentioned it during our interview. Kalin said, “Just to be clear, and many people have asked us, but Wave Break is not a kart racing game. Flips, grabs, manuals, grinds, and good lines with gaps everywhere.” He goes on to talk about the shooting mechanic and a 3rd dimension of control while in the air. It seems that you would need to bring skills in from other gaming experiences “on top of those skating muscle memories,” Kalin says. I had all of this knowledge going in, and yet I still wasn’t prepared for what it was.
As I said, Wave Break is exactly as described. You are skating. On a boat. And you can jump and do grab tricks, and grind, and the whole 9… fathoms? But what I failed to account for was control of the skateboat. It moves, well, just as you’d imagine a boat would. Which, in and of itself is not a huge problem, but you are also in water. Water that affects your boat’s path of travel. Water which makes quick turns to jump onto a rail downright difficult. You’re in the water, and so your environment reflects such. And let me tell you, trying to grind up the side of a lighthouse that’s not exactly big in circumference, all the while trying really hard to maintain the touchy balance in the green.
Okay, onto the game itself. There is a campaign mode, and it has everything you’d expect of a skateboarding game. 2 minutes to “skate” around and complete as many of the goals as you can. Come back for another 2 minutes to try to get more, and another 2 minutes, and another 2 minutes… I was hoping for a little more innovation here, but it is a tried and true model. There are wacky characters that you meet around the maps. One of the first I met was Axel A. Axel. An alligator who tells me about the cruise ship being stolen and that our “product” is on the yacht and we need to crash it to get it back. Skipping past the sketchiness of the “product”, this seems pretty straight forward. There looks to be a ramp on the back of the ship, we need to shoot over it, dropping some dynamite on it to take it out. No problem.
So I set out to drop off the payload. Only when I am pulled out of the cutscene, I have no idea where the cruise ship is. And now I have 1:47 left in my run. A quick search does find it, but there were no clues in the cutscene as to where it was going to be. Now I see it, and my first couple attempts have me at a weird angle, so I have to get some distance between me and the boat. You see another potential issue with the controls is the momentum. In most skating games you hold a button to push, and you can release it to coast. The terrain you’re on in the game determines the duration and speed of the coast. But we’re not on skateboards. We’re on skateboats. And remember that water? It essentially reduces the coast down to 0. I bring this up because I always used the “coast” period to make minor adjustments in angles and what not. Well, this is non-existent in Wave Break as you need to constantly be on the throttle to move forward.
So now, I have my angle, and I am going at full speed, and as I approach the boat I see a speech bubble that basically says to stop me. I launch the ramp, and enter a cutscene before I even clear the ramp. Axel A. Axel is back to tell me that the detonation remote for the dynamite I just dropped (did I? I couldn’t see it all happened so fast) is on top of the lighthouse. After I press A on my Stadia, I am dropped back into game. At a dead stop. Landing on the cruise ship’s deck. Being shot at by enemies. As I start to hightail it off the boat, I realize I slow a little every time I get shot, and before I know it, I am dead. I now have 1:17 seconds to get over to the lighthouse and grind up it. No problem.
Now I can shoot at these guys that are shooting at me. And I did. But I am about to “boomer” myself when I say this proved a little difficult for me at first. You see the throttle is on your R2 button (right trigger) and the shoot button is R1 (right bumper). I typically play with my index finger going back and forth between R1 and R2, so this mechanic was awkward for me at first given the lack of a “coast.” But I make my way to lighthouse, which is really not that big around, and I prepare to head up. Only remember that water. I was on a good line to get a good angle, got bumped by the water, changed the angle and I try to correct, but overcorrect and it’s a mess. After several attempts, I finally made it on the lighthouse and start grinding, but lose it only a quarter of the way up thanks to some extremely sensitive and finicky balance controls. My second attempt was better, but I lost momentum about two-thirds of the way up. My next several attempts were not successful either, and my two minutes were up. Luckily, you can restart the mission and it puts you at the beginning, before you plant the dynamite, and two full minutes to complete the mission. However, I soon discovered that this may be beyond my skills in the game at this point so I set off to do other things.
Personally, I am a huge fan of that late-eighties/early-nineties “Miami-vice” design. Every level is a visual masterpiece with so much to see. But that’s just it. There’s so much to see, and in Campaign, only 2 minutes to see it in. I am not 100% sure that the 2-minute level approach was the best one to make with this game. Not if you’re starting right off the bat with huge levels, missions, and 14 objectives. I know that games like these are meant to have multiple runs, but this approach was such a success on previous games in the genre because you started small. Small areas, objectives to complete. With the large levels, and the added distraction of this shifting/moving water, navigation through these could take one run per objective, not to mention the multiple runs missions. It’s enough to wear someone down to the point where they may put the controller down before even out of the first run. Maybe, a better approach could have been open-world skating in each level with no time limit, unless you start a mission, or initiate an “objective run” where the 2-minute timer is started and you can now attempt those objectives like collecting B-R-E-A-K or get 10,000 points. The best you get for this is the Free Play game option. I will give them credit, you can choose any of the 4 levels currently available without having to unlock them via campaign. So you can get in and practice the levels. It would just be really nice to be able to start your objectives as you need.
In addition to the campaign, you have matchmaking and custom games for death matches and, well, custom games for single or multi-player.
It’s not to say the game isn’t good. It’s extremely fun. It just has an extremely steep learning curve, especially when it comes to the campaign. But it does get easier. Not easy, just easier. Especially once you can master the quick 180 turnaround using the L2 (left trigger) to reverse. There’s just so much to take in, and not a really good way to do it. I will keep playing and update the review as I progress. It’s definitely keeping me coming back, but I am not sure at the moment for how long. But hey, maybe I am not the target audience for this game. I just turned 38, not exactly a spring chicken any more, and the more complicated controls are becoming the bane of all aging gamers that they eventually become. Give it a try for yourself. Right now, it’s only available on Google Stadia, but will be available for more platforms in the future.
3 stars out of 5