Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on a wide range of topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this edition, Dave Letcavage discusses his somewhat recent introduction to the divisive Wii launch game Excite Truck, and makes a case for why it's worth adding to your collection if you missed it when it initially left the starting line.
Back in the N64 days, I lived for racing games that allowed my vehicle to catch big air and soar through the sky with reckless abandon. The original San Francisco Rush was the catalyst for this mild obsession, while other games such as Freekstyle, Rush 2049 (stunt mode!!), and Hydro Thunder furthered my love for gravity-defying, head-spinning heights. In real life, my equilibrium gets all wacky when I look out the window of a skyscraper or glance over the railing on the second floor of a shopping mall, so it’s no wonder that confronting this quasi-phobia within a virtual world provides me with such a thrill.
Excite Truck, developed by Monster Games and published by Nintendo as a launch game for Wii, follows in the tracks of extreme '90s arcade racers by delivering an experience centered around blazing fast speeds, simple stunts, and, most importantly, massive air. It’s a game about racing, but it’s also about earning as many points as possible to finish the race with a score high enough to advance. This means you’re gonna have to take big risks if you want to show up the competition – and these 'big risks' usually involve launching your vehicle skyward from every dirt, snow or grass-covered incline in sight.
Knowing that, it should go without saying that this game should be right up my alley.
But I didn't have a Wii at launch; I waited until the summer before the release of Donkey Kong Country Returns in the summer 2010, to invest in the console. By the time I had an opportunity to purchase Excite Truck, I'd heard so many people say it wasn't worth my money because it was shallow, and because its sequel, Excitebots: Trick Racing, was a major improvement. So, at some point down the road I bought Excitebots and passed on Excite Truck – that is, until a couple years ago when my curiosity and its affordability convinced me that Excite Truck should at the very least be a part of my Wii collection.
Fast forward to last year, to 2017 to be specific. I was in the mood for something mindless and commitment-free, so I slipped Excite Truck from its cozy spot on the shelf, dusted it off, and gave it an opportunity to rev my engine. It did just that.
Tilting a sideways Wiimote to steer your truck is an intuitive and simple method of control, one that clicked with me right from the start – same as Excitebots. Is it gimmicky? Obviously. Would an analog stick offer greater precision? Absolutely. But the truth is that the motion controls work well enough here that this is the rare occasion where I wouldn’t have it any other way. I'm a lost cause when it comes to steering with the motion controls in Mario Kart Wii, but I have no problems with Excite Truck. It’s an amusing and surprisingly reliable means of interaction, and it only contributes to the game’s arcade-like appeal.
That’s because Excite Truck’s core gameplay is so darn satisfying. The moment-to-moment racing is intense and constantly engaging, and discovering which routes ultimately lead to the best trick opportunities has keeps me compulsively selecting 'Retry' at the end of a race even if I’ve earned enough points to move on. There's something about collecting an S rating - other than unlocking additional difficulty modes - that I find so inexplicably irresistible. It certainly doesn't hurt that you're frequently unlocking vehicles, paint jobs and in-game trophies for your stunts and wins. I hate to overuse a word as plain and broad as 'fun' but in this case, it's such an apt descriptor that it feels wrong not to use it. So here it goes: Excite Truck is, simply put, a truckload of fun.
I'll admit, if I had purchased a copy for its original retail price of $49.99, I might have wound up slightly disappointed. Mainly because it's somewhat unambitious in terms of modes and options. There's no less content than an N64 racer such as San Francisco Rush or Beetle Adventure Racing; instead, the main issue is that these modes aren't all that deep or unique. Excite Race, which is a standard world tour-type mode, has you partaking in the same stunt-laden race type through six re-purposed environments (seven if you count a secret level tucked away deep in the game), while Challenge offers a few 'smash all opponents' and 'drive through the rings' variants to spice things up. And that's about the extent of the variety.
Luckily, I didn't pay $50 for Excite Truck. I was able to obtain a like-new copy for less than $10. The way I see it, that price renders any value-related concerns irrelevant. I've already extracted way more than enough entertainment from this package during the many nights I've spent knocking out a few races or dabbling in split-screen mode, and I imagine anyone else with an affinity for balls-to-the-wall racing will feel the same. There's something about its easy-to-play yet tough-to-master nature that reminds me of an NES game (and, no, it has nothing to do with its Excitebike lineage) that keeps me coming back for more every few weeks when I need to blow off some steam and de-stress. Heck, at this point I think I've spent more time with it than Excitebots.
If you still have a Wii or Wii U sitting around, and you want an accessible, high-energy game to spend at least a couple weekends with, I highly recommend Excite Truck. It's oft overshadowed by its more inventive successor, and that's understandable, but that doesn't mean it doesn't also deserve a reserved parking space in your collection, especially now that it's so cheap.