Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater holds a special place in the hearts of many nostalgic gamers. The first two had edgy soundtracks that questioned the establishment, all while underscoring your sweet kickflips and tailslides. Funktronic Labs’ Wave Break aims to capture that similar vibe, albeit with a more laid-back ‘80s synth aesthetic. Despite featuring anthropomorphic animals on boats, the gameplay harks back to the old arcade skating classic. How well does this homage perform? Well, it hits some of the right notes, but not all of them.
Do a Boatflip
If you recently played THPS 2, you’ll feel right at home with Wave Break. The control scheme will be familiar, and even the core gameplay loop echoes the old-school classic. You have access to four huge “skate parks,” each capturing a varied environment and feeling. Ramps and rails litter the map, giving you the ultimate playground to chain together some sick combos.
Instead of a skateboard, though, you're piloting a magical boat. This vehicle surfs along the water and somehow skates across the land. It defies gravity whenever you do an "ollie" and spins under your feet when you do a "kickflip." For all intents and purposes, the boat is basically a skateboard that works on water. You have the option to hop out of the boat whenever you want to walk around, but there isn't much reason to do so. You also have access to a gun, but it doesn't play a major role.
Wave Break features a truly ‘80s, Miami Vice-inspired feel, complete with its own synthwave soundtrack. As a big fan of synthwave, I appreciated seeing familiar names on the soundtrack, like Robert Parker and Ollie Wride (who found his true calling by being in a pseudo-skating game). The bright, vibrant environments, which range from a tropical getaway to a neon city, easily capture that ‘80s vibe, too. The fun, crime-inspired story, while cute, isn’t worth writing home about. What you’re here for is the gameplay.
Flips, grabs, grinds, manuals, and spins will be the key parts of your experience. The more of them you chain together, the higher your score multiplier goes. The higher the score, the bigger the bragging rights. After spending some time in a level, there’s really nothing more exhilarating than figuring out your own path and scoring huge combos. When Wave Break lets you be free to do as you please, it shines brightest. I could spend a long time exploring these maps, finding cool routes, and practicing combo chains, just to beat my previous high score. It’s arcade skateboarding at its finest.
Pulling off these tricks gets somewhat easier as time goes on, too. Of course, you’ll inherently become a better player, but in addition to that, you can use in-game cash to pump up your character’s stats. These stats revolve around the different types of tricks you can do, but in my time playing, the in-game cash created a conundrum. You don’t earn much of it unless you play multiplayer, so if you don’t like playing online, you won’t be earning much cash. Furthermore, you can also spend that money on cosmetics, but that put me at odds. Do I deck out my bear and his boat in slick style, or do I upgrade my stats? With the meager cash from all the single-player modes, it was a decision that felt more difficult than it should’ve.
Where Wave Break Breaks
You can play around in all four stages right from the start through Freeplay mode, which lets you roam around without any time limits. If you play the Campaign, you’ll have to unlock these stages in sequential order. Unfortunately, that’s where things start getting a bit dicey for Wave Break. The campaign gives you different tasks on each level, and you have to complete a certain number before moving on. You spawn in, have two minutes to play around, and then the run ends. If you complete a task in that time limit, you check it off the list and won’t have to worry about it in subsequent ones.
Some tasks are as simple as scoring a certain number of points, while others get a bit more esoteric and—frankly—annoying. The collectibles especially highlighted a major issue with the movement. While Wave Break can feel a lot like THPS 2, there’s one crucial difference: you’re on a boat. This means precise movements are frustratingly difficult as you bob on the surf. When you’re on land, there’s something about the locomotion that’s eerily reminiscent of the ice stages in Super Mario. This lack of fine control doesn’t matter as much when you’re whizzing around at high speeds, looking for the next ramp. However, when you’re trying to collect who knows how many hidden wads of cash in precise places that need fine-tuned maneuvers, it quickly becomes frustrating.
Some of the Campaign tasks tie into a loosely told story, too. You’ll approach an NPC, they’ll provide some quick context, and then you’re off to execute their orders. These missions will have you collect something or eliminate enemies with your gun. That’s right, there are guns in Wave Break. Unfortunately, the weapons feel like a tacked-on afterthought that doesn’t synergize with the rest of the experience. They’re there for the fun of it, but killing enemies didn’t feel worth my time.
The multiplayer modes also utilize the guns, but that didn’t make it feel any more satisfying. The Time Attack mode puts you and three other players on the same map, and the person who scores the most points in the time limit wins. In a way, it feels unsportsmanlike to kill your fellow players here, and when the guns don’t even feel fun to use, there’s really no incentive to whip them out. On the other hand, Deathmatch is the obvious choice for players who want to use their guns. It’s a four-player free-for-all fight, and the player with the most kills wins. Even with guns playing a crucial role in the objective, it didn’t feel as compelling as pulling off a cool combo. In other words, the guns don’t mesh well with all the jumping and grinding.
Wave Break Loses Its Balance
As you play, you'll become well acquainted with the balance meter, which shows up any time you do a grind. An arrow will sway from left to right, and you have to keep the marker away from the edges or else you bail. The longer you grind, the more erratically the arrow moves. When you’re playing around for the fun of it and incorporating grinds amid other tricks, the balance meter doesn’t become a big issue. However, the Campaign occasionally asks you to complete some lengthy grind sessions, which almost always end in failure. Even after hours of trying, the balance meter simply feels too unbalanced to complete these sorts of objectives. At some point, it always becomes too wobbly and unpredictable.
I’m sure there are others out there who might be able to pull off these insanely long grinds but making it a core, required part of the campaign experience left a sour taste in my mouth. If you simply aren’t skilled enough, you’ll have trouble unlocking future campaign levels. Sure, you could still play those later stages in Freeplay mode, but that defeats the whole purpose of the Campaign.
In a way, having to complete these tasks—especially the frustrating ones—harshes the experience that Wave Break evokes at its start. In the first few hours, this felt like a game you could put on when you want to relax, chill out to some synth, and play around on a skateboard-like boat. The Campaign missions—especially the far harder ones—create an opposing atmosphere of frustration. Of course, these tasks are yet again another homage to THPS, so I can see it appealing to a nostalgic audience. For me, it was arguably when I had the least fun with Wave Break. Luckily, at its core, it can still be a laid-back yet engaging experience, even if the Campaign bogs you down.
Wave Break Review | Final Thoughts
When Wave Break lets you put your hair down and enjoy the surf, there’s a lot of fun to be had. When the Campaign asks you to complete some almost unfairly difficult objectives though, it can ruin an otherwise chill experience. This wacky “skateboating” game is at its best when it lets you do as you please. After all, the skateboarding lifestyle is all about living by your own rules. When you don’t have to worry about fulfilling some pre-ordained goals and instead set out to reach your own, there’s a certain magic to be found in this ‘80s-inspired romp.
TechRaptor reviewed Wave Break on Google Stadia with a code provided by the publisher. The game is out exclusively on Stadia, with plans to come to other platforms at a later date.
- It’s Basically Tony Hawk
- Landing Cool Combos Feels Fantastic
- The Synthwave Soundtrack Slaps Hard
- Campaign Can Be a Slog
- Grinding Balance Meter Gets Too Wobbly Too Soon
- Needs Even More Synth