If you grew up in the early 2000s with video games, chances are you went to an arcade; either a local one or a franchise like Gameworks, Dave ‘n’ Busters, and Chuck E. Cheese.
They at least had one machine for Midway’s Thunder racing series (i.e., Hydra Thunder, Off-road Thunder). Still, the machine, which was the most prevalent, sends the player on a journey through exotic and enchanting locals. The machine simulation breeze as the adrenaline-pumping music take takes you away. Arctic Thunder was the game, and it made riding a snowmobile an experience.
Let’s look at how Arctic Thunder came to fruition, the arcade version, and the PS2/Xbox port.
Arctic Thunder released in the arcades on December 1, 2000, as the fourth installment to Midway’s Thunder series. The arcade machine is horizontal with a blue and grey aesthetic. The front of the machine has a design of one of the female characters floating over mountainous terrain with the Arctic Thunder logo boldly on top. The first half of the machine comprises a rectangular control with a red and green button at opposite ends, and with motorcycle-style handles. The top of the machine has vents that release air during gameplay. The end half of the machine has a blue seat and stickers at the bottom making it look like the bottom of a snowmobile, and the seat vibrates during gameplay.
The arcade features six characters, all with their unique stats and vehicle, and six tracks ranging from easy to hard. When you insert a coin into the machine, it directs you to the character select screen where the characters wait eagerly on top of a snowy mountain. Once you select your character, you get the option to select any of six tracks, and you're off to races.
As the race starts, the chair and control vibrate, and when the announcer starts the race a rush of cold or hot air rushes on the player's face emulating air, the characters would feel. The main aim is to reach the finish while you collect power-ups and hazards to throw at other racers. If a racer gets close, there’s an option to hit them and get them out of the way. Midway added checkpoints to the game this time around, a second timer displayed on top of the screen, and the character must go through the checkpoints or they will run out of time. The gameplay has an excellent amount of thrill with over-the-top stunts each time the character passes through a slope. The music keeps the action going and vibrating sensations and breeze had depth.
The arcade had an updated version titled, Ultimate Arctic Thunder with included two additional characters, and tracks. That same year saw the release of an addition named Arctic Thunder Blizzard, which would have more content than Ultimate.
The following year, 2001, Midway ported Arctic Thunder on PlayStation 2 and Xbox with the help of game studio Inland Productions. Arctic Thunder is the only game Inland Games had ported but developed plenty of games through the late 90s to 2002. The port includes 13 new characters, and six more tracks the player can unlock while playing the game. The home port has all components to make a console racing game: Quick races, tournaments, and time trials. The port is a carbon copy of the arcade version. The exciting gameplay and hazards are all there, but with certain arcade racers, the gameplay can get repetitive if there isn’t much variety.
Arctic Thunder is simply one of those titles that don’t translate well to console. The port is still enjoyable, but only for a couple of minutes. Most complaints from critics were as a result of the glitches, downgraded graphics, and muffled sound. Knowing this is one of the early titles for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, it’s likely something like this would have occurred. If only Inland Productions took more time.
Midway created an engaging snow sports epic with its arcade port, but the console version fell short due to its repetitive gameplay and stripped-down effects and sound. Midway made something special with Arctic Thunder. If you ever spot an Arctic Thunder arcade machine in your local arcade, give it go; you’ll have no regrets.
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