Fun trivia fact about me: After Hatsune Miku figures, the most collectible plastic I have in my home is a collection of rubber ducks. I’ve always liked them as a kid (and have always liked ducks in general), and they come in such a wide variety these days that they’re genuine collectibles.
Unlike Hatsune Miku, there haven’t been many enjoyable rubber duck games. The best I’ve ever played was a Zuma clone that Bandai Namco released on the iPad a decade ago (Duck Duck Quack). I played this for many dozens of hours because, as simple as it was, it captured the essence and charm of the colourful, squeaky toys beautifully. Of course, you can’t play that any more because it has been long abandoned and delisted from the App store, and unlike consoles, there’s been little effort to preserve iOS games history as far as I’m aware. So, hooray for lost art!
Anyhow, the point of that long-winded introduction was to say that while I wasn’t necessarily expecting Rubberduck Wave Racer to match the quality of Mario Kart… or even Chocobo GP, I was hoping it would be a functional “kart” racer featuring my favourite water toys. That was too much to ask for, I guess.
To be fair, Rubberduck Wave Racer looks reasonable. The concept is strong, and a little like with Micro Machines, your duckies are tumbling around water parks in bathtubs (and, later, fruit juice, lava(?) and the Milky Way), and it all looks larger than life because everything’s from the ducks’ perspective. The game also has official licensing from Schnabels, and, honestly, the ducks do look good. Anyone that likes rubber ducks will appreciate the aesthetics and effort here. It’s budget, but authentic.
Sadly all the effort seems to have been put into the visuals, because for a racing experience, Rubberduck Wave Racer just does not cut it. I actually booted up the N64 Online App to play that console’s Wave Race back-to-back with this. It’s not a good sign when an N64 game has better water physics, track design and AI than a game released in 2023. The AI is basically nonexistent. Once the “GO” whistle blows, all the AI ducks line up in a neat little line and float their way around the course. It frequently means they get stuck on scenery and pile up, and while I guess that is appropriate for a game about rubber ducks, it doesn’t make for the most compelling racing experience.
Meanwhile, there are only 16 tracks, spaced across four courses, and for game modes, you’ve got single player, multiplayer (2-4 people), and single track race. With only 12 ducks to unlock (despite the sheer variety of rubber ducks out there), there’s really not much to the game and you’ll see it all within a play session or two. With the tracks being of very vanilla design, the general difficulty being quite low, and there being so little reward for playing, the replay value of Rubberduck Wave Racer is also shocking low for a kart racer. Even looking beyond Mario Kart, which is ridiculously large, this is still a genre where even the most modest efforts are meant to be good for a few dozen hours.
The other big disappointment is the weapons. They’re there, and you’ve got all the usual suspects, both offensive and defensive. You’ll drop mines and tornadoes in the water to slow opponents down, while blasting any that get in front of you with missiles. But the fact that these items are so generic in design is really disappointing, because if anything was an opportunity to be whimsically charming with the items in a racing game, rubber ducks were that opportunity.
All of this is a pity, because Rubberduck Wave Racer has some neat ideas. For one thing, because the courses are made of flowing water (juice, lava, etc), the momentum that you can build up is pretty incredible, and every so often there’s a moment of thrill and joy as your ducky skips through the water like it’s flying. The downside to that is that when you crash into a wall, the complete stop to momentum makes recovering annoyingly sluggish and clunky. Moreover, it’s very easy for the duck to get stuck on a wall or flipped. While there’s a reset button that’ll get it back on track, the fact that it feels like a game design bug makes it annoying. These are things that could have been positioned as a whimsical take on rubber ducks in real bathtubs. However, the game just isn’t charming enough to pull it off.
I imagine that there will be some kids that will enjoy a mild kick out of Rubberduck Wave Race, as it is accessible and doesn’t require as much skill as most kart racers. However, thanks to the soulless presentation of the subject material, the lack of replay value and no sense of reward, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would get more than a very short chuckle from playing this. It sucks, really. As a fan of rubber ducks, I would love a game like this if it was even halfway decent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even get to that point.