At the launch of the Wii back in 2006, Nintendo had the Monster Games developed Excite Truck available to show off some of the motion controls of the system. It was a fun, fast-paced game, and well worth the $40 asking price, but you could also say that it was somewhat generic, as far as its personality went. You were driving plain trucks around at high speeds while also flying through the air performing tricks, but that was about it.
Now, Monster Games has developed an unofficial sequel of sorts, and the first thing they did was to inject personality and character into the vehicles and the game. Because of this, we now have Excitebots: Trick Racing, and we should all be thankful for that, whether you enjoyed Excite Truck or never played it. As good as Excite Truck was, Excitebots is the superior title in almost every way.
Apr. 20, 2009
Here’s the premise behind Excitebots: just like Excite Truck before it, you drive around courses set in the real world, like Fiji, or Kilimanjaro, or Egypt. You can’t always tell where you are driving-there isn’t something obvious like a pyramid in every level, after all-but you’re also driving around so fast at times that scenery isn’t something you’re paying attention to, unless you’re about to crash into it. Finishing first is of less importance than it is in other racing titles; you get stars for finishing in a better position, but it’s not required to pass the course.
These stars are the core of Excitebots. You perform tricks, like catching extra air on a jump, drifting on a turn, or spinning mid-jump, in order to earn stars. The more stars you earn, the higher your grade, but you have to do that within a time limit-you can’t just hang out on a course, punt a good finish in the standings, and rack up stars forever. You are graded on these course, and need a minimum of B to unlock the next track. In addition, to unlock Super Excite difficulty, you need a grade of S on every course on Excite difficulty; Excitebots does not fool around.
You will want to replay these courses until you master them though anyways, as stars are the currency with which you unlock new vehicles, paint jobs, and collectables. You can also bet stars in online play, against either strangers or your friends, in order to exponentially increase your winnings and ability to unlock everything there is in the game.
Outside of the online play, that was the core gameplay of Excite Truck as well, but there are plenty of other changes that make this game worthwhile. First of all, the problem of generic trucks has been taken care of with animal and insect shaped robot cars. They drive, but can also run on robo-legs, and at even faster speeds than those you drive at with a turbo boost. Second, Monster Games end product gives me the impression that their meetings to determine what went in the game and what didn’t saw very few votes against for any idea.
For example, here are a few of the things you can do within the courses in order to earn stars and speed boosts, and on occasion, a nifty shortcut. There are red and yellow bars found throughout the courses that you latch on to with your robot arm and then spin around repeatedly, eventually shooting off back on to the course with a speed boost and time for aerial tricks. You move the Wii Wheel or Wii Remote in a circular motion, towards and away from you to mimic the onscreen movement until you blast off. That’s new, and the tamest of the ideas. Besides that, you can throw a pie in the face of a clown to change the landscape in front of you, opening up a shortcut or jump. You can crash through 10 bowling pins, earning a star for each pin you drive over. You can kick a soccer ball into a net, or a football for a field goal, or swing a bat at an incoming baseball, or make a sandwich on a zip line. Yes, make a sandwich with your robot car attached to a zipline. Monster Games had me at sandwich.
For a game that moves as fast as it does, and requires you to focus on the task at hand-namely, staying on course and focusing on the track-Excitebots does all it can to get you to look at anything but the course, and instead wants you to deal with all of these games in front of you. It’s a wonderful feeling, and more than makes up for the fact that the tracks are all still somewhat generic in their presentation. You don’t have time or the desire to focus on your surroundings, unless there happens to be a soccer net in front of you that you need to line up with.
Despite the frenetic pace, the game controls very well, better than Excite Truck ever did (and that game controlled fine). You can use either the Wii Wheel or the Wii Remote-for those of you who do not have a Wii Wheel yet, you can buy a $50 version of the game that includes one, saving you $5 assuming you would have purchased them separately. Unlike Mario Kart though, you don’t necessarily steer so much as you tilt; it lends to the feeling that your high speed bot could go out of control at any moment, and helps to amp up the intensity of your drive.
Besides the main game, of which there are five cups of increasing difficulty and two distinct difficulty levels, there are also other ways to play. First is Poker, which has your bot making poker hands as you drive around, cashing in those hands for stars. You start with four cards, and drive through a group of five to pick up another you would like to make a hand, then cash in that hand, replacing all of your cards and giving you four more. It’s a fun and different way to play the game that relies less on speed and more on your reflexes and quick-thinking as you try to crash into the card you need.
There is also a mini-game gallery that allows you to earn some bonus stars by playing things like soccer, baseball, football, etc., independent of the courses they are in. My favorite is the one with the giant gloved hand that attempts to smash you as you take the stars found underneath it. It’s like racing against a violent Hamburger Helper mascot, which is a level of ridiculousness that I wish more games aspired to.
Online play works, and works well. You can play with your friends after exchanging Friend Codes, but you can also play with up to five strangers online. There were no connection or lag issues in my time testing online, which is a good sign, and there were always people available to play against, which is also a positive. Sadly, Wii Speak is not utilized, which is somewhat surprising given Nintendo released it in November and has barely supported it. For those who do not want to play online, or just want to challenge a friend, there is split-screen competitive mode as well.
Also on the negative side, custom soundtracks from your SD card are no longer an option like they were in Excite Truck. Again though, the generic rock music from the first title has been replaced by over-the-top fast-paced music with more of a techno feel to it that fit the game’s setting well. It may not be for everyone, but it’s an improvement. Still, I wish custom soundtrack were there, especially given that the Wii supports larger SD cards than it used to.
Despite those minor flaws, this is still a wonderful and unique racing game, and easily worthwhile even for those who have Mario Kart Wii in their collection (and continue to play it, like I do). It’s a different experience than that, and even different than Excite Truck-as well as superior. Despite explaining what this game is about for over 1,000 words, it’s something that needs to be seen in action. Make sure to check out the video for more information on Excitebots: Trick Racing.