I vaguely remember having a go in canoe as a young child, and must have enjoyed it because I've always fancied doing it again. Well, now developers JumpStick have given me that very opportunity, albeit in a Kayak and at very high speeds, and I can tell you it's an absolute blast to play, with super fun gameplay, fantastic immersion, and physics that feel spot-on.
The game has a well put together tutorial to begin with, which shows you how to paddle straight (there is a way), the various methods for turning, and how to use the handy feature for pushing away from the rivers edge when you get stuck, so I strongly advise you go through it, as If you are anything like me you'll need all the help and advice you can get, as I literally was all over the place to begin with, often finding myself floating downstream backwards. (which felt slightly embarrassing even though I knew no one was watching!)
CUSTOM PADDLE TO THE RESCUE
It took me about an hour or so to get the hang of steering the kayak properly, and I still wasn't great then, as I was finding it extremely difficult using 2 single paddles and I found myself thinking how much easier and more lifelike it would be if I had a single double-ended paddle like the real thing, and as I could see myself playing this game often, I decided to go ahead and quickly rig one up. Well, it instantly made a huge difference to me, so much so that I found myself leap frogging my way up the leaderboards on just my second attempt at a race using my new homemade device. I therefore strongly recommend making a paddle if you are a purist like me and want to get as close to the real thing as possible. The game is still great fun without one of course, but with a single double ended stick, it just feels so much better IMO and makes steering the boat much easier from the start.
FUN COMPETETIVE RACING
The leaderboards really add to the fun and give the game its main competetive ingredient, as not only can you race against other players times around the globe, but you can also see their ghosts on the river, as if they are there racing with you, making it the next best thing to a live multiplayer experience. In fact in some ways it's better, as you're not limited to a moment in time, but can race them again and again whenever you feel up to the challenge.
POWER-UPS VS REALISM
There are powerups on the river which you can collect and use, but I never actually got to use them so can't comment, as you can't use them if using a custom rig like I am as your controllers are well out of reach, being attached to each end of your custom pole. The same goes for the pushing away from being stuck feature - this does not work with a custom paddle rig as you need to cross-over your controllers to make it work, but to be honest, with the custom paddle I didn't get stuck once as I could now steer much better, and as for power-ups, although possibly great fun, if they give a player any kind of speed boost like those on Mariokart do, then I hope the developers implement a simulation only mode, where it's just every man and his boat, without any James Bond trickery in the mix.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Graphics are great, however, when your paddling like there's no tomorrow trying to beat your last time, you really won't be caring too often about how nice or realistic the scenery is or isn't. Having said that, what you do look at constantly is the water, and the devs have done a really nice job of giving it the effect of being deep and powerful, and this really adds to the immersion factor. The Kayak itself also looks great, equipped with its own sort of dashboard which features a handy health meter and other icons such as power-ups which I never got to try. Sound effects were very authentic too, with plenty of watery splashes and glugs and rushing torrent effects to add again to the incredible immersion as you're racing. I really liked the art style of the game, as most importantly it helped keep the frame rate nice and stable to ensure ultra smooth racing.
Over all, a brilliantly made, highly immersive racing game with endless hours of competetive fun to be had. The devs have also told me that they intend to eventually cater to those with custom rigs with regards to the power-ups and push off feature, which is great news and shows they listen to and care about their customers.