Powerboat Challenge
| Powerboat Challenge

You'd think with a title like Powerboat Challenge you'd know what you're going to get. A boat with power, namely, although that's the last thing you get when you start playing. Instead, you get a boat with remarkably little oomph – think a tug boat powered by AAA supermarket batteries.

It also has the turning circle of a steamroller stuck in some cement, none of which sounds too promising. But bear with it because Powerboat Challenge does get much better. You just need to win some races, earn some money and strap a few bits onto your boat. Visit the shop to buy some fins, a new engine and some electronic 'things' and you'll hardly recognise your boat an hour later.

Like a sailor who regards those who live on land with salt-preserved contempt, the game starts you off tough, but fortunately its early races in the first of four different countries are reasonably straightforward.

In a normal race, you simply need to beat three other racers. But there's also an Eliminator race in which the last person to cross the finish line in each lap is removed, and Time Trials where you complete one lap within a time limit goal. They're all subtly different to play and if one seems particularly difficult, it normally needs going back to once you've bought a particular turbo-charged boat part.

In all of the races, buoys are scattered about the courses and require skimming past to the right or left. Get it right – cut in closely enough – and a Boost meter is partly filled. Miss one and you not only lose power, but also risk disqualification if two more are bypassed.

They mean races aren't only about finishing first, but finishing at all since some are placed cunningly close. In your early boat, it means they need a fair bit of forward planning to get round, too. In your souped-up vessel this gets easier, although travelling quicker brings its own challenges.

The four countries offer a bit of everything – choppy waters, icy alternatives, and calm lakes – making for some quite distinctive races. Completing each of these countries to 100 per cent level is just half (or a quarter, to be precise) of the game, though. Four playable characters mean the experience is not over until you've won as them all – which actually makes Powerboat Challenge quite a lengthy game.

Visually, it's lovely, with the sort of reflections you won't have seen too often in a mobile game, and the races are paced well enough to always be a challenging struggle.

If it wasn't for the carrot dangling in our faces of earning parts to get a boat that actually turned, we might have written it off in the early races as it felt a rewarding as trying to control a stupidly slow remote control boat with a low-battery controller. But winning prize money and spending it on new kit is addictive enough to keep you playing until things get good. And Powerboat Challenge does get good with a decent boat. Maybe not, you know, drifting-upstream-with-a-few-beers-on-a-sunny-day good, but not too far off.

Powerboat Challenge

Medium-octane powerboat racing game with an impressive number of events, stunning courses and a comprehensive upgrading system. Boats can be a bit sluggish to control, but the game's structure and pacing are winning elements
Kath Brice
Kath Brice
Kath gave up a job working with animals five years ago to join the world of video game journalism, which now sees her running our DS section. With so many male work colleagues, many have asked if she notices any difference.