Arcade racing games have always been a major hit with casual gamers so what better system to launch with one than Nintendo’s casual-friendly Wii. Excite Truck is the spiritual successor to Nintendo’s Excitebike franchise and a lot of the same rules apply. There are big jumps, turbo boosting, but sadly no track creator, which is probably the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise extremely fun romp.
Being a launch title always lends a game to more scrutiny than titles released later the console’s lifespan. With Excite Truck I can honestly say you get exactly what you see here and that can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. There is no mistake; this game is a straight up arcade racer with no emphasis on realism, and that is all it is. This is a bare bones package with very few course variations and vehicles, but don’t mistake it for lacking fun, because Excite Truck can certainly deliver on that aspect.
Probably the biggest hook, and one of the main reasons you bought a Wii in the first place, is the game’s implementation of the motion controls. As opposed to traditional racer Excite Truck uses the Wii-mote’s tilt-sensor to steer your vehicle. You hold the remote just like the old NES pad and tilting it left and right and back and forth will control all of the movement in the game.
While this is simple to use it can take a while to master. For instance finding the perfect center for your steering will most likely result in lots of sliding when you first pick up the controls. This also is not quite as accurate as using the analog or d-pad which will result in many crashes and off-road adventures that you would have easily avoided in a traditional game of this type. This is of course a minor gripe and even with these small annoyances the game is still loads of fun to play.
Even without the complexity of pinpoint controls there is a layer of depth found in Excite Truck, albeit a small one. Boosting is an integral part of the race, and it can easily decide the outcome. Just like the previous “excite” games boosting isn’t negated to an amount of juice but rather a heat meter that measure the engine’s temperature. Hold down the boost too long and the engine will overheat. A cool addition to this Wii interpretation though is the ability to cool the engine down by chugging through a section of water. This instantly cools down your ride and if you can time it right gain yourself an almost infinite boost.
There are also several other ways to earn boost throughout the race that don’t effect your temperature gauge. These can be earned by performing specific maneuvers during the race such as landing on all four wheels after a big jump by tilting the Wii-mote back and forth or simply nailing every ring in mid air by perfectly timing your boost before the jump. There are also small exclamation points scattered throughout the game that can alter the track by adding jumps and other landmarks simply by passing over them. These can also open up new routes throughout the game and even cause events such as landslides to knock your opponents even further behind you.
There is also a trick system in the game, which feels a bit tacked on more than anything. Basically you can spin the trick in different directions before hitting the ground. This aspect feels like a last minute addition, but if you want to obtain the S rankings you will have to learn how to master this trivial system regardless.
Alongside the main single-player romp Excite Truck has a few other modes to keep players satisfied. There are a collection of mini-games such as a slalom challenge where you have to remain inside a set path, a ring jumping challenge where the game has you jumping through hoops for amusement, and finally a destruction challenge which is easily the most fun of the three. Probably the biggest disappointment though is the multi-player, or should I say lack thereof.
Excite Truck only features a head to head mode for up to two players. While this would be passable on some accounts, the fact that there isn’t even another car on the track while you are racing really drags this mode down. A four player option or at least computer controlled opponents would have really helped here, but if they had really wanted to deliver the goods online would have been ideal for this game. I understand that Nintendo is still working out the kinks in their online setup, but when you have a game like this that simply scream for an online component, you can’t help but feel disappointed when it isn’t there.
Visually the game isn’t going to wow anyone, but that doesn’t mean that it was hit with the ugly stick either. You will find some nice particle effects and even reflective water on the courses of Excite Truck and overall the game looks pretty good even on a standard TV. The increase in sharpness when using the HD cables is noticeable, but it will also remind you of just how ugly of a game this is when compared to the likes of PGR and Gran Turismo. Granted the idea of this game is gameplay over visuals, but with the recent trend of gorgeous racers it is hard to go back sometimes.
The sound on the other hand is atrocious in every aspect. This is the most painful soundtrack I have heard in a game in a long time. Thankfully you can import your own music via an SD card full of MP3 files, but nothing can hide just how horrible the sound coming through the Wii-mote speaker really is.
With the current crop of racers trying to be the most realistic sim on the market it is nice to finally see some classic arcade action back in the mix. Excite Truck offers plenty to see and do and is just flat out fun at times. The lack of a solid multi-player component is the game’s worst enemy, but if Nintendo manages to fix that this could easily become a staple franchise for the company. While not the best launch title the world has ever seen it is a nice compliment to the powerhouse known as Zelda and does offer some diversion to the mini-game heavy lineup.