Powerboat Challenge Review

Review by Matt Dunn

It’s like a PSP, that you can play with on your iPhone. Seriously though, Powerboat Challenge is an excellent step towards actually getting PSP-quality games on your iPhone, and is by far the best iPhone racing game out there! You wanna know why? I’ll race ya for it.

Coolest. Name. Ever.

Coolest. Name. Ever.

This game makes me happy. Why? Because it proves that there are actually developers out there who are pushing the boundaries of the iPhone’s hardware. It also proves that there are developers who are actually interested in creating games that have an off-the-shelf-feel. Enter, Powerboat Challenge.

PC is a pretty straight forward speedboat racing game. It starts off fairly slow, with an excellent tutorial, and progressively gets faster and more difficult. Basically, the game revolves around racing against either opponents, or the clock. All the while, you are required to pass through buoys on the track that either point to the left or the right. If you pass on the correct side, you will gain power to your boost meter. If you pass on the wrong side three times in a race, you are disqualified. Pass by close to the buoy and you get more power than if you’re farther away. Once this fills up, you can boost to get a burst of speed and overtake your opponents. Passing close to the buoys gives you “style,” which then translates into a 1-5 star rating at the end of each race.

Let me get one thing straight right now: if you want to enjoy this game, use the touch controls! The accelerometer controls are a nice thought, but the touch controls make the game SO much easier to control, and a lot more fun. Besides, about 50% of the time I loaded the game, I got a message stating the accelerometer wasn’t responding anyways. So yeah, no worries there. The touch controls are simple. Touch left to turn left, and the right side of the screen to turn right. The boat automatically accelerates as fast as possible, and if you want to slow down for turns, you can touch the bottom of the screen to decelerate. You tap the boat to boost.

She wants me.

She wants me.

Powerboat Challenge is completely polished and packed with gameplay from beginning to end. It features 4 different islands that theme from thick jungles to Antarctican tundra. Each island features a whole slew of races, ranging from time trial, elimination, standard race, to the quite difficult “time trial XT.” You unlock more races as you go along, and at the end of each island is a multi-race tournament.

Three of the islands contain a store, that lets you customize your boat. You earn cash from racing, and can spend it on spoilers, engines, and other things to boost your boat’ss stats. The cosmetic changes then appear on your boat the next time you race. You can sell back parts to get money, and if you replace an older part with a new one, the resale value of the old part automatically applies to the purchase of the new one. I actually found myself having to re-tweak my boat to finish certain races, which was pretty cool!

Ok, so lets talk about one of the biggest draws of this game. That’s right, the graphics are awesome! As stated in our preview, Fishlabs used higher res textures than most 3-D iPhone games, so the boats and tracks look excellent. Seriously, this game looks like some of the first-gen PSP games out there, which is incredibly impressive considering it’s running on a PHONE. The water reflections are great, and even though there are no water effects otherwise, I honestly barely noticed it. I also noticed that the draw distance is good enough to where it doesn’t effect the gameplay at all. On some levels you can see things being built, but it’s generally very quick. Oh, and there’s even a neat little replay feature that lets you enjoy the graphics as you watch your last race. Not amazing, but cool nonetheless.

I was able to play this game for a solid two hours on my (edge) iPhone at the end of the day, and I didn’t notice any framerate issues until the last 30 minutes or so. The main issue was with the game graphics freezing for a second or two, and then jumping ahead to where you are supposed to be. Because this didn’t happen very often, it wasn’t a huge deal. I mean, I was seriously playing the hell out of this game trying to beat it! I’m guessing I put in a total of 4+ hours just to beat the game with one character, and there are three more to choose from!

Outta my way dogg! Zed is coming through!

Outta my way dogg! Zed is coming through!

As far as sound goes, the music is great, at first. I’m not sure why, but there are only two tracks in the entire game; one for racing, and one for the menus. On top of that, there are almost no sound effects at all. I’m wondering if they were taken out for performance, but it’s kinda lame that there aren’t even any engine sounds or anything. The game asks you every time you launch it to turn sound on or off. Turning it off produces better performance results.

The racing itself is a blast, with just a few minor complaints about opponent “AI.” I say that in quotes, because it’s really just boats on a set track. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to shove boats off their path, and sometimes they end up forcing you into positions that are difficult to get out of. The start of the race can be particularly frustrating since the boats can get quite clumped up. Once you get past the first one or two, the race picks up and is a lot more enjoyable. Luckily, there is a pretty balanced amount of time challenges that don’t have AI opponents.

Finally, this game does an excellent job of pausing the game if you receive a text/call. It also saves the games very well, even if you’re in the middle of a race and exit to the home screen. All in all, Powerboat Challenge is one of the best games I’ve played on the iPhone.

Presentation & Graphics

For the iPhone, it doesn’t get much better than this. Good draw distance, hi quality textures, great water effects, and most importantly, very few frame rate issues.


Sound is the only place where this game falls short. Music is great, but not when you hear the same song for every race! Where are the sound effects? I wanna hear my motor roar!


Touch controls are incredible. So good, that I’m willing to completely ignore the more difficult tilt controls. AI is clunky, but can be forgiven. Once you get the hang of it, racing is a blast, and quite a challenge. The racing reminds me a lot of Wipeout for the PSP, which was an awesome game.

Game life:

I got 4-5 hours of this game, and that was from beating it with one of four characters! Since the characters you’re not playing are main opponents in the game, there will be different story elements based on who you play with (though the “story” isn’t a huge deal). Each character also starts with different boat stats. There is a great variety in race types, and it’s a big challenge to 5-star every single one. You will need to do this if you want to get 100% complete the game. This one will be on your home screen for a while.

Game rating:

Final word:

Lets get the bad out of the way: crappy-but-forgivable AI, difficult tilt control, and no sound effects. That’s it. Everything else about Powerboat Challenge is soaking in off-the-shelf quality; from the graphics, to the touch controls, to the sheer massive amount of race types and other content. Powerboat is one of the few games on store that is completely worth it’s price tag, and then some! Go get it.

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