Nintendo’s Excitebike is a bit of a cult classic. It’s never been a massive selling series but true Nintendo fans have a very special place for it in their hearts. When Excite Truck was announced as a Wii launch title, those very same fans rejoiced – at last, they could put away their copies of Excitebike 64 and get stuck into an updated version. But does it live up to the near-legendary name?
You might be forgiven this was a cheap Burnout clone just thrown together to show off the motion sensing controls of the Wiimote. After a brief play those preconceptions are blown out of the window and you are whizzing through courses thrashing your rivals without even thinking about the control method.
I don’t know if you’re the same as me. When I played racing games as a kid when things got tense my natural inclination was to wave the joypad in the air and try and steer myself out of a tight corner. Perhaps this is why Excite Truck’s control method just feels so right. Tilt left and right to control your truck. Hold down button 2 for the accelerator and press up on the D-pad for a boost of nitro. That’s it. So simple. It’s tempting to compare Excitetruck to Motorstorm on the PS3 – the subject matter is very similar and in doing so it really shows up the gap between the two systems – but in a way you might not expect. Sure, the PS3 trounces the Wii in terms of graphical muscle, but both games also make sure of motion-sensing technology and it’s in this area that the Wii really shows up Sony’s machine. The controls on Motorstorm are hopelessly erratic and feel unfinished, whereas Excitetruck controls like a dream. At no point do you feel that using the remote has compromised your command of the on-screen events, which is the hallmark of a truly brilliant control system.
Early screens gave a tempting indication of what kind of game we were to expect – massive jumps, over the top track scenery and eye-searing speed. The finished product thankfully has all of these things. To complete each race, finishing in first place is not always enough – a certain quota of stars have to be earned to progress from one track to the next. Stars are awarded in a variety of ways – pulling off massive jumps, power-sliding the car round corners, driving dangerously close to trees, smashing into fellow racers and performing death-defying stunts whilst in mid-air. Failure to indulge in any of this tomfoolery will result you in having to race again – being first is not enough to get you through – in fact, if you ignore the stunts you can achieve first place with very little effort. This is refreshingly at odds with most titles of this ilk, and the system ensures that each race is packed with outrageous stunts as the player pushes their car to the limit in order to gain as many stars as possible.
Variety is added further as landscapes can be manipulated by running over certain icons which will cause an earthquake or the landscape to morph into a huge ramp.
The landscapes vary greatly from dusty dirt tracks of Mexico to icy tracks in Finland. As you progress to the more advanced cups you will face variations on the old courses which add more obstacles to wreck your truck and even more challenging landscapes. This really helps add to the longevity of the game.
The pace is fast and there is a sense that this is a game the Gamecube would have struggled to pull off. The draw distances and solid framerate is quite noticeable. The music however is a let-down, the worst kind of cheesy rock drivel. It’s not all bad news as you can throw some MP3s on your SD card and play your own soundtrack through the game which is a welcome addition. This isn’t a particularly new feature – Xbox owners have been able to do this for several years – but it’s a welcome one and hopefully Nintendo will look at including it in other games.
Excite Truck is a great game to pick up and play for 15 minutes at a time. There is no great learning curve and it’s fairly accessible for non-gamers to pick up. It does get a little samey after repeat plays and the AI in the rival trucks is virtually none existent. Still it is a good solid attempt at creating a fun racer and to that end it is well worth a look.