Developer: Monster Games / Nintendo SPD | Publisher: Nintendo | Release Date: 2007 | Genre: Racing / Arcade | Website: n/a | Purchase: Amazon
The 1985 hit, Excitebike was one of the first games I played on the Nintendo Entertainment System and it provided me with many hours of fun. For its Wii launch, Nintendo has released Excite Truck, which although it substitutes bikes with trucks, still carries on the fine tradition that the series has.
Most launch titles are little more than tech demos and while Excite Truck does a fine job of showcasing the abilities of the Wii remote, it is first and foremost a fun game. The game is controlled entirely with the Wii remote so before you start playing there are a few tutorials to teach you the basics of the tilt based controls. I had my doubts about steering a truck by merely tilting the Wii remote left or right but it actually works. For the first few playing sessions you will probably try and race with big, exaggerated movements, but you’ll soon find that subtle movements work just as well.
The 1 and 2 buttons are used for accelerating and braking, although I barely touched the latter. Since you have to hold the Wii remote sideways, your thumb will be on the d-pad but you can forget about using it for steering. Instead, pressing the d-pad results in a turbo boost. This is very handy, but as usual for the series, it leads to your engine overheating if you are not careful. Driving through water or soaring through the air cools your truck down faster, so it’s a constant challenge to boost as much as possible while making use of the environment to cool down. Fortunately, catching air is not too hard as tracks are littered with ramps that can propel you miles into the sky. Pressing boost just before leaving a ramp gives you some extra air, which can be used to perform rotations. The purpose of this is to earn stars, which is your primary goal in the game. A certain number of stars are required per track in order to advance. It’s not hard to do however as all your actions in the game, from jumping, drifting, smashing into other cars and even crashing earns you stars. This means you can come in first and still lose which is strange initially, but you will soon get used to it.
The visuals are not too spectacular, but still pretty decent for a Wii title. The tracks are located in China, Scotland, Mexico, Fuji, Finland and Canada as well as a secret location, which only the dedicated will find. You race against five other A.I trucks but they mostly serve as another means to generate stars as you smash into them or fling them into the air with the terrain morphing power-up. Causing huge ramps to form from the landscape with this power-up is actually a pretty impressive sight, especially when combined with the cool weather effects. Power-ups not just morph the terrain, but can also cause obstacles to come tumbling down on the track. I wish more was done with this idea as it has a lot of potential.
Like in Excitebike, if you crash you can hammer on the fuel button for a faster recovery. The game moves at quite a breakneck pace so you will definitely have a few close encounters with the local flora. If you are feeling particularly brave you can attempt “tree runs” which reward you with a star for each tree you manage to drive between without crashing. The “Pow” power-up makes life a little easier by making your truck indestructible. It is quite fun smashing through trees and other trucks alike, while this power-up is active. You even get some sirens blaring in the background to add to the effect.
Once you tire of racing on the 19 available tracks you can attempt the “Challenge” mode. Here you can choose between driving through gates, jumping through rings or smashing into other trucks. It sounds pretty simple, but this mode actually lives up to its name. It’s a pity that the multi-player only offers straight forward head-to-head racing between two players. My other complaint would be the music which is a selection of cheese rock riffs which soon becomes tiresome. Thankfully you can load your own MP3s from the SD card to play instead.
While there are definitely some things about Excite Truck that could have been better, it truly lives up to its name and the legacy of the series. As you hurtle through the tracks the motion controls can make it feel like you are barely in control but that is part of the thrill. Nailing the perfect landing by adjusting your truck mid-air is always a thrill and returning to the tracks in order to beat your previous best is addictive.
How much you enjoy Excite Truck is probably going to depend on what type of gamer you are. If you blow through everything and expect tons of extras and unlockables you will probably feel short-changed. If you are able to enjoy a game purely for the fun it offers then you can’t go wrong with Excite Truck. It is never going to give the other consoles a run for their money when it comes to visuals, but the gameplay more than makes up for that.
*Review originally published April 2007.