Hydro Thunder is a powerboat racing game, originally an arcade game and later released for the Sega Dreamcast in November 1999. It was also released for PlayStation and Nintendo 64 in early 2000. This game is part of Midway's 'Thunder' series of racing games, which includes Offroad Thunder, 4 Wheel Thunder, and Arctic Thunder.
The gameplay of Hydro Thunder consists of racing high-tech speedboats through treacherous environments, from the cold seas of the Arctic Circle, to a post-apocalyptic, flooded version of New York City.
Scattered across the tracks are blue and red boost icons. When touched these icons allow the player who touched them to boost. Red boost icons are more scarce than blue boost icons due to the fact red boost icons give more boost fuel. When a player has boost fuel they may use the boost button to boost, which allows a player's boat to reach speeds much higher than what would normally be possible. Also by boosting a player can knock other boats into the air, a feature described by the game as the Mighty Hull. Another aspect of boosting is the Hydro Jump which is performed by braking and using the boost button. When the Hydro Jump is performed the player's boat is propelled into the air. When combined with the many ramps on the tracks, players can reach short cuts and boost icons that would normally not be accessible otherwise.
The arcade version of Hydro Thunder utilizes the same basic cabinet as Cruis'n USA and Offroad Thunder, minus the standard foot pedals and adding a variable position throttle with forward, neutral and reverse directions. The game also has an unusual volume adjustment, where the regular play volume is usually set lower than the feedback volume for the subwoofer in the seat. This places the player "in the game" and makes the person feel like he or she is actually piloting a powerful, high-tech speedboat.
The boats in Hydro Thunder are divided into 4 categories: easy, medium, hard and bonus. The easy boats tend to be easy to control but they do not have the speed of other classes. Medium boats are in the middle, and Hard boats are usually very difficult to control but are very fast. Bonus boats are accessible by entering a combination to access the boat. They are also very hard to control. When using hard or bonus boats it is hard to control boats in the arcade version because the steering wheel will rumble and turn itself making it harder for the player to keep control of the boat. In the console versions hard to control boats only swerve from side to side if left unchecked.
Easy boats include Damn the Torpedoes, a pink and purple boat, Midway, a white and orange boat named after the developer and Miss Behave, a green boat with a fan instead of a propeller.
Medium boats include Banshee, a green and black boat that looks very similar to the real F1 powerboats. Tidal Blade, a dragster-like boat with flames on its sides and Thresher, a Blue and black boat with shark-like fins. Tidal Blade was the cover boat for the Dreamcast version of Hydro Thunder.
Hard boats include Cutthroat, a purple and yellow boat with a skull on its bow and a jet-like shape; Rad Hazard, a gray UFO-like boat; and Razor Back, a red boat that was depicted on the cover of the Playstation and Nintendo 64 versions of Hydro Thunder. Selecting one of these boats will make the announcer say that "You're crazy!"
The bonus boats in Hydro Thunder were offbeat when compared to the other boats in the game. The Tinytanic boat was literally a smaller version of the tragic luxury vessel the R.M.S. Titanic (hence the name). The Blowfish boat was a purple and black hovercraft which used two fans instead of propellers. Chumdinger was a grey fishing boat with a dog that would bark at other racers, while Armed Response was a police boat with mounted guns.
The tracks in Hydro Thunder like the boats are divided into 4 classes: easy, medium, hard and bonus. The easy tracks are usually short and easy with the bonus tracks being the longest and hardest. The arcade version of the game had only two bonus tracks: New York Disaster and Nile Adventure. Hydro Speedway was present as a hidden track. The console versions added two more: Catacomb and Castle Von Dandy, making four in all (except for the MAT3 version, which do not include the CATACOMB track, making three). This list is of the tracks according to the arcade version.
- Thunder Park was a three lap race around a large theme park- one of the 4 in the game with a loop.
- Lost Island was a race through a tropical island, possibly set in Hawaii, with tourists, natives and monkeys.
- The Arctic Circle track featured a trip around the Arctic Circle, complete with large oil tankers and polar bears.
- Lake Powell track had players race through a lake in the middle of a desert in Utah of the same name.
- The Far East was a track that had players race through an anonymous city in China, with a festival.
- Greek Isles was a race through a selection of Greek areas in Greece.
- Ship Graveyard course was a race through a sea of sunken ships possibly in America.
- Venice Canals course was a winding track that went through the city of Venice, featuring a large cathedral.
- New York Disaster was a track that was a race through a post-apocalyptic flooded New York, starting in Manhattan and exiting via New York Harbor.
All of the tracks here except Nile Adventure and New York Disaster were circuits.
- Castle Von Dandy track was a race through a Cathedral like castle.
- Nile Adventure track was the longest Track in the game and has many sharp turns that the player must overcome as they race through the Nile River and into an Egyptian tomb.
- Catacombs track was a race through an underground cavern.
- Hydro Speedway was a race through a park, similar to Thunder Park but at night-time. Hydro Speedway was unlocked in the same way as other bonus tracks in the console versions rather than being unlocked with a code as in the arcade.
Besides the original arcade version, Hydro Thunder has been ported over to several home consoles. The PlayStation version of the game included a career mode not found in the other versions. The Dreamcast version of the game had graphics that were more detailed and closer to the arcade version than the other console versions. The Dreamcast version of the game was included in Midway Arcade Treasures 3, a compilation of Midway's many racing games. A PC version was also released in Europe.
The Dreamcast port became one of the few Sega All Stars titles.
Midway Games had plans to create a double pack for Hydro Thunder and San Francisco Rush 2049 under the name Hydro Rush for the PlayStation 2. But the game was cancelled and the project moved to Midway Arcade Treasures 3 for Gamecube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Midway had plans to create a sequel for Hydro Thunder; however, the project was soon scrapped and never recreated.
In January 2009, Raw Thrills announced a spiritual successor tentatively titled H2Overdrive, developed with the assistance of the former Midway San Diego members who worked on the original arcade version of Hydro Thunder.