TBT – Hydro Thunder

Hydro Thunder is one of those arcade games you never forget. Its inception was on the cusp of decline of physical arcades and rise in popularity of home consoles. To this day, it remains one of my fondest gaming memories for a multitude of reasons. Find out more after the jump!

Midway, as any other studio of decades’ past, has a tumultuous history. The company actually began as an amusement game manufacturer in the 50s and intelligently moved to the game industry in the late 70s. By 1999, the company had established itself as a prolific developer, touting games like Mortal Kombat and Gauntlet. The success however, was short-lived, as the company filed for chapter 11 in 2009. Warner Brothers then purchased the studio, including some of its major IPs (Mortal Kombat being one) and thus, Midway was no longer.

However, for a period of time–during which Hydro Thunder would make its debut–the company would be the fourth largest game developer/producer in the market. I should be thanking them for giving me so many games during my childhood.

Lost Island track using Miss Behave.

That being said, Hydro Thunder was special. Not only was it one of the best arcade games, it ported perfectly to console. Featuring nine unique and unlockable tracks (and three bonus tracks for the console versions) and boats, the game focused on tight controls, and fast-paced races. Utilizing boosts, jumps, secret passageways, and tactics reminiscent of Mario Kart (a move called Mighty Hull would propel other racers into oblivion), Hydro Thunder was a staple of the arcade scene.

Being an arcade game, it lacked anything resembling narrative, but made up for it with bombastic tracks and gameplay. Each track and boat consecutively increased in difficulty, from left to right, easiest to hardest. Each race featured different, awesome locations. From lost rain forests to post-apocalyptic New York and romantic Venice, the individual tracks continuously became more out-there than the last.

The diversity between track and boat is what makes this game such an amazing arcade racer. Each boat offers different handling. For example, Tidal Blade (one of my favorites) is a perfect middle-road racer; it’s fast and hydrodynamic as its shape cuts through the water like no other boat on roster. It also handles extremely well, with tight cornering and superb air capability. Conversely, the UFO-shaped Rad Hazard has possibly the worst handling, due to its shape, but as such, has the absolute best control in the air.

Tidal Blade and Rad Hazard are in the middle on both left and right sides of the selection screen.

The true experience is definitely the arcade version though; some of the more expensive arcades near me had fans that would simulate wind (even though most of these boats had enclosed cockpits) as you blew through the race, which added another level of immersion.


I used to sit for hours, beating every track; every other person’s score would be erased. I AM THE HYDRO THUNDER KING! Seriously though, I was extremely good. Probably why I have such fond memories.

In the end though, it does not stand the test of time for a console game. It is at its best in the arcade and alas, most arcades have gone with the wind.

That being said, I give Hydro Thunder a

Tony Marinilli

Tony is a passionate and devoted gamer who studies, examines, and enjoys all aspects of games from narrative, script, and score, to character development, and of course, gameplay and graphical quality. He enjoys Action/Adventure and RPGs like Last of Us and The Witcher, respectively. He writes about a myriad of topics within the gaming community, including but not limited to: reviews, focus pieces such as sexism within the industry and general news surrounding gaming as a whole. If reading about hot topics and enjoy engaging conversations about games, Tony is your go-to guy. When he is not at work, writing, or eating, Tony can be found playing games.

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