“You ever try Hydro Thunder?” (Pynchon, 292)

Chapter 27 incurs the return of Horst, Ziggy, and Otis and recounts their trip to the midwest. The brunt of the first section acts as their recollection of the entirety of their expedition focusing heavily on their mission to find arcades. Pynchon goes into detail about two games in particular. The first of which is Time Crisis 2, a light gun rail shooter which can still be seen in arcades today. Pynchon describes this game as the favorite between Ziggy and Otis. The second and more important is Hydro Thunder, a speedboat racing game. They are introduced to this game by two midwestern boys Gridley and Curtis.

The Pynchon Wiki for Bleeding Edge does not define in any way Time Crisis 2 or Hydro Thunder. It only briefly mentions that Hydro Thunder exists as an actual arcade cabinet and links to the wikipedia page relating to the machine. Time Crisis 2 is also not represented in any form on the wiki.

“blasting souped-up powerboats through a postapocalyptic New York half underwater here, suffocating in mist, underlit, familiar landmarks picturesquely distressed. The Statue of Liberty wearing a crown of seaweed. The World Trade Center leaning at a dangerous angle. The lights of Times Square gone dark in great irregular patches, perhaps from recent urban warfare in the neighborhood. Intact buildings are draped in black scaffold netting all the way to the waterline. Ziggy is in the Armed Response, and Otis has the helm of the Tinytanic, a miniature version of the famous doomed ocean liner. Gridley and Curtis have vanished, as if they were shills not quite of this earth, whose function in the realworld was to steer Ziggy and Otis into the ruinous waterscapes of what might lie in wait for their home city, as if powerboat skills will be necessary for Big Apple disasters to come, including but not limited to global warming” (Pynchon, 292-3).

The second arcade game that Pynchon references is Hydro Thunder. A precursor to the readily available Arctic Thunder that can be seen in most arcades today. Hydro Thunder was developed by Midway Games and was first produced in 1999. Unlike many other racing game cabinets, Hydro Thunder did away with the accelerate and brake foot pedals and replaced it with a variable position throttle lever to increase the immersion of the player. It also had an unusual volume control for the sub woofer under the seat. Like many other arcade machines, Hydro Thunder is coin operated and it was also ported to various different consoles including PS1, PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. Gameplay wise, Hydro Thunder is a twist on the generic racing arcade games. It boasts 9 different tracks with two bonus tracks and 9 different speedboats with four extra special boats.  The scene that Pynchon depicts has Otis and Ziggy playing one of the bonus tracks added to the arcade cabinets called “New York Disaster”.

In terms of critical reception, the arcade cabinet was never reviewed. However, in terms of ports to consoles, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, a spiritual successor to Hydro Thunder, received 4/5 from Gamesradar, a 8/10 from Gamespot, and an overall 75 Metascore from Metacritic. Let’s plays and speedruns of Hydro Thunder ports can be found on YouTube and .iso files for emulators can be found on various websites. One website in particular allows viewers to play the PS1 port of the game in-browser, however to experience New York Disaster, one must first unlock the track or input a series of cheat codes, omnipresent in its time. I was able to play through the New York Disaster and was able to make out Pynchon’s description of the post-apocalyptic New York.  His listing of the different scenery of New York Disaster fit according to the level although there definitely were embellishments to the descriptions. I also found it interesting that both Ziggy and Otis drove the Tinytanic and Armed Response, both secret boats that can only be unlocked by the ever present cheat codes.

Pynchon’s reference to Hydro Thunder is heavily researched. With his in depth descriptions of the stage scenery as well as his knowledge of the exact vehicle names, Pynchon is able to create a comprehensive reference. But what does this reference have to say about the story? Pynchon’s reference to New York Disaster in Hydro Thunder is one of his many glaring foreshadowing of the attack on September 11. Although it might not look exactly like the thrilling track on which souped up specialized speedboats can run through, it could very well be as distressed and abandoned as how Pynchon describes. It’s also interesting to note that Pynchon and players of the game do not know what it is that caused the disaster in New York. Thus this reference could be not only foreshadowing the attack on the Towers but also even more destructive events to come.It’s easy to take something along the lines of “Gridley and Curtis have vanished, as if they were shills not quite of this earth, whose function in the real world was to steer Ziggy and Otis into the ruinous waterscapes of what might lie in wait for their home city” (Pynchon, 293) as face value wherein Pynchon is only foreshadowing the destruction of NYC. But if one delves deeper, one might see that Pynchon could also be foreboding the dangers to Ziggy and Otis’ own lives. I see this in Ziggy attempting to persuade Maxine into moving someplace less at risk, something she does to Ziggy and Otis after Windust’s death. As well as in the transition of games that Ziggy and Otis plays. Mainly in that, in Time Crisis 2 it was remarked that they knew all of the tricks and were the highest scoring players that Gridley and Curtis has ever seen. However, with the “help” of Gridley and Curtis, they were placed into a situation that was completely new for them, one that also looms with impending destruction.

Works Cited

Calvert, Justin. “Hydro Thunder Hurricane Review.” GameSpot. CBS Interactive, 27 July 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

“Hydro Thunder Hurricane.” Metacritic. CBS Interactive, 28 July 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

“Hydro Thunder – N.Y. Disaster.” YouTube. YouTube, 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

“Hydro Thunder – Videogame by Midway Games.” The International Arcade Museum®, Museum of the Game®. The International Arcade Museum®, Museum of the Game®. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

Keast, Matthew. “Hydro Thunder Hurricane Review.” Gamesradar. Future Plc, 26 July 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

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2 Responses to “You ever try Hydro Thunder?” (Pynchon, 292)

  1. spelunkingseahorse says:

    Yes while reading this passage in the novel, I definitely sensed the foreshadowing present as well. Pynchon never ceases to amaze me with the plethora of accurate and fitting references that he made throughout Bleeding Edge. It is really cool that you were able to find and play the very same level that Ziggy and Otis were playing. I hope to be able to give it a try sometime so I can experience the stellar 1999 graphics as well.


  2. hamiltonjonesii says:

    I really like this post. Your insights into the actual game definitely allowed me to get a different perspective on what this passage might actually be about. I really like your connection between the two games and Gridley and Curtis too. The game footage is a really nice addition too. Definitely a little different than I imagined it to be.


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