Whilst a game based on Deliverance probably would be very cool, Exciting River is about kayaking to a goal in the quickest time possible, rather than surviving a weekend river-rafting amongst crazed banjo-duelling hillbillies out for blood. Still, exciting it is thanks to good controls and fast-paced gameplay.
There are a number of courses to play through in two categories: Normal and Hard; the latter drops you into course six, so we'll assume there's ten, all told. Simply steer your kayak through treacherous waters, racing against a clock to get the best time possible at the goal line whilst listening to a happy tune that will have you thinking of Irish dancing or the Highlands of Scotland.
Exciting River is played with only three buttons: D-Pad for paddling on the left, A button for paddling on the right and B to turn on the turbo (in case you didn't know, most kayaks are turbo-charged). The key to success is alternating button presses and adjusting the timing between them. Putting a slight pause between each press and holding the button an extra half-second results in strong paddle strokes for greater speed, whilst rapid alternating presses gives short strokes, but allows for more minute course adjustment. Repeatedly tapping one of the buttons will result in gradual steering in that direction, whilst a quick double-tap will result in a sharp turn for when you need to make a major course correction or round a sharp bend.
Bends are found in the rivers aplenty, from simple right and left turns to u-turns and zigzags in the later courses, but you'll always know where you're going and what kind of bend it is thanks to the flashing arrow preceding each one. Your kayak's orientation will change to follow the river, so you'll find yourself going from bottom to top, left to right, right to left - but thanks to the simple nature of the controls you never get confused about how to steer your canoe. Aside from getting slowed down by hitting riverbanks you'll encounter logs (which splinter before your presumably ironclad kayak), large rocks which will sink you, strong cross-currents, whirlpools and other kayaks that'll get in your way.
Since you have unlimited lives the main threat all of these hazards pose is slowing you down and since you have less than a minute to get from one checkpoint to another, that's a big problem. In addition to picking up a 30-second clock boost every time you cross a checkpoint, you'll have a big ace up your sleeve: turbo-boosting. You start out with a full boost metre, but one press of the button will drain it as your kayak become a nautical missile, plowing through logs and other kayakers with ease. The boost lasts a while, but it's pretty hard to steer so you'll want to conserve it for straightaways lest you actually end up wasting more time than it would have saved bouncing off the riverbanks. You won't get an automatic refill on your boost metre – even when you start a new course, so you'll need to replenish it by grabbing apples you'll find handily bobbing on the river surface.
Your best times are recorded in the top screen as with other G.G. Series games, with the display changing to show each course in order. It's actually quite a fun game with each course completing in under two minutes of often frantic paddling around bends and obstacles to the sound of Celtic fluting, before moving on to the next until you eventually run out of time. Exciting River demonstrates that although the big new innovation in the DSi is the touch interface, there's still room for creative gameplay using traditional controls, too.