A game with surfboarding animals can’t be all that bad, right?
To Beat: Finish Round 5 in Street Skate Encounter and Round 1 in Big Wave Encounter
To Complete: Finish Round 12 in both modes
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Reached Round 13 in both modes
Played: 11/29/16 – 11/30/16
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: T&C Surf Designs Longplay
Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage is an NES game notorious for not being very good. Certainly that was my impression of the game ever since childhood. Now that I have beaten the game, I realize that the game is misunderstood. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is a good game, but once you break through the shell of bad impressions, there is a playable game here that has a few neat ideas.
T&C Surf Designs is a company that specializes in surfboards, clothing, and accessories. They first opened a store in Hawaii in 1971 and expanded to clothing in 1976. Sometime in the 1980s the company adopted cartoon characters named Da Boys for a line of shirts that became very popular. These characters created by Steve Nazar would form the basis of the NES game. Da Boys would disappear for many years before being revived in 2016 under the name Thrilla Krew. T&C Surf Designs is still in business today.
T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage was released on the NES in February 1988. The game was developed by Atlus and published by LJN. It was only released in North America. There was a sequel to the game named Town and Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari, released in 1992. These two games are the only games bearing the company name or characters.
Wood and Water Rage has two distinct modes named Street Skate Encounter and Big Wave Encounter. As you can probably tell by the names, the first is a skateboarding game and the second is a surfing game. There is also a third mode named Wood and Water Rage that combines the two by cycling between levels in both games. To beat the game, you must meet the conditions for both modes either separately or together in the combined mode.
When you begin the game you choose one of the modes with the option of either 1-player or 2-player. Multiplayer is alternating play and otherwise identical to the single player mode. After you choose the game mode you choose which characters you want. There is Tiki Man for skateboarding and he pairs with the surfer Kool Kat. You can also choose Joe Cool for your skateboarder and he teams with Thrilla Gorilla on the surfing side. The characters are purely cosmetic. My favorite is Kool Kat just because he surfs while wearing a tuxedo, which is beyond cool.
In Street Skate Encounter, your goal is to reach the end of the course. Play takes a side-scrolling perspective starting on the left and moving right. You must dodge hazards and obstacles in order to reach the finish line before time runs out. You only get one minute to clear the course but it is a short stage. If you either run out of time or run out of health, it’s Game Over and back to the title screen.
To control your skateboarder, use the D-Pad to move in all eight directions. The game autoscrolls but you can speed it up by moving right or slow down by moving left. You can also tap the B button to push yourself forward. I don’t know if it’s necessary, but I always tap the button repeatedly to maintain speed. You can jump with the A button, but when you do this you jump in the air and your skateboard stays on the ground rolling beneath you. If you want to jump and bring the skateboard with you, hold Left while jumping.
This mode has a few interesting mechanics to it. There is a life meter in the bottom right corner of the screen consisting of some round symbols. You earn life points periodically as long as you skate quickly, and you lose some if you crash. Depending on how you crash you either lose two or three life points. If you max out at eight life points the timer freezes, so skating perfectly means you cannot run out of time.
There are ways to earn extra points while skating. There are four different colors of coins that appear at regular intervals in the stage, and collecting them will give you points. Red coins give you the most points and blue give you the least, with pink and green ones in between. If you only collect coins of the same color, then each successive coin gives you double points up to eight times the base value. There are some moving objects in the way such as a toy car or a ball and you get points if you jump on top of them with your skateboard. There are also barriers that give you points if you jump over them and let your skateboard roll underneath. You can also grind on the guardrail at the very top of the playfield and you get points for doing that.
After you clear a round, the next time through is the same level except you begin farther to the left. This means that you gradually expand the beginning of the level and the course gets longer the more times you play it. The fifth time through the course is the first instance of playing the entire level. Hopefully by now you have learned the course well enough to keep going without crashing so that the timer will freeze.
In the other mode, Big Wave Encounter, your goal is to surf long enough to reach the pier on the beach. Just like in skateboarding, play is side-scrolling and moving to the right. You want to surf both to the right far enough to avoid crashing within the big wave tailing you and high enough to avoid crashing on the bottom of the screen. There is no timer in this mode; it is all about surviving to the end. You also have health points in this mode and if you run out it is Game Over.
The surfing controls seem straightforward but they are the cause of all the confusion and misunderstanding of the game. You use the D-Pad to move in all eight directions. If you hold the A button it shifts your balance forward, and holding the B button shifts the balance toward the back of the surfboard. That’s all there is to it, but in practice it seems that no matter what you do you always end up losing ground and getting knocked off your board into the water.
Aside from just trying to stay on top of the water, there are obstacles that can also knock you down. There are people on inner tubes, jumping fish, and birds that you should avoid. You will also come across bananas that you can collect for points. I never bother with them since I am so focused on keeping afloat.
Your surfing style can also net you some additional points. You earn a tiny amount of points just for staying alive, but if you surf inside the pipeline you get a larger amount of points periodically for as long as you stay on your board. If you surf up off the very top of the wave, you will catch some air and land toward the bottom of the screen and earn even more points. The best way to earn score is to do a turn at the top of the wave. The easiest way to do this is to surf straight up and then turn downward as you touch the top of the wave. If you can pull this off at the very top of the wave you get points as well as an additional life point. You can do this many times in a row to boost your health to the maximum very quickly, so this is the best strategy for survival.
Wood and Water Rage has no ending in any of the modes, and so I get to figure out what it means for me to beat the game. The Street Skate Encounter mode lets you play the full level on Round 5, so clearing that round qualifies as beating that mode. The only difference in the later rounds is that your starting health is reduced. I believe on Round 12 you only get one point of health to start so that is the most challenging round. The Big Wave Encounter has a more unclear ending condition. The level seems to get longer in later rounds but there is no definitive way to tell. It may cap out at five rounds like the other mode, but if you clear at least one level that should be good enough. Just like in skateboarding, the starting health is the lowest at Round 12. To master the game, you should probably complete twelve rounds in both modes.
Wood and Water Rage was a game I had in my childhood collection. I am sure it was a garage sale pickup for cheap since I wouldn’t have been interested in this game on my own. With that in mind, this game did not get much play time. The skateboarding was fine but not all that gripping, and I did not understand the surfing at all. I would occasionally mess with it and then go on to something different.
Now that I am going through all the NES games, I have finally given it a fair shake and I see that it’s not all bad. The Street Skate Encounter took a few practice runs to learn the controls and layout. Timing jumps off ramps is still something I flub up occasionally, and I will get nailed by one of the moving obstacles sometimes. Otherwise, I didn’t have too much trouble with this mode. The Big Wave Encounter still was as confusing as ever until I had the aha moment of earning life points by turning downward at the top of the wave. Once I did it a couple of times, I saw how easy it was to pull off and I could keep doing it as much as I needed. This little trick makes the surfing easier than the skateboarding, which is something I could have never envisioned. This also led to reducing the difficulty assessment for the game to below average.
I met my goal in both Street Skate Encounter and Big Wave Encounter separately, but I also decided to play the combined Wood and Water Rage mode for my video longplay. Since Round 12 in each mode is where the difficulty is the highest, then clearing Round 24 was my goal here. I only make one attempt at it and I came up short. In Round 21, I crashed right in the beginning of the level and that was that. Mistakes sure are costly in this game. Nevertheless, I am still pleased with how I played.
My big takeaway from playing this game is that it is far too easy to overcomplicate something in my mind. I figured that the surfing would be very difficult to figure out when all along the solution turned out to be both simple and repeatable. The skateboarding by contrast was almost the opposite, requiring a more traditional approach. The game overall is not too complicated with some understanding of the mechanics, and it turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected. However, don’t be fooled. The game is very lean in terms of content, and what’s here is nothing to be excited about. I prefer to lean on the positives, and it’s always nice when a game can surpass my expectations at least a little bit.