IGN Review of Excite Truck
The fact that you can launch a two ton 4x4 hundreds of feet in the air and land it unscathed, earn points for taking out the competition, and cool off an overheating engine simply by driving through a mountain stream should tell you that Excite Truck is not for the fans of realism. This Wii launch title isn't designed to be anything more than an adrenaline rush of a racing game, and it definitely achieves this focus. It is, however, a title that suffers a bit from launch title-itis: its presentation isn't quite as fleshed out as far as current generation racers go, but even with a few small gaps like its weak multiplayer component, the game is a hell of a lot of fun to play in its solo outing.
Excite Truck borrows its namesake from Nintendo's classic Excitebike NES and arcade game, but beyond this Wii racer's focus on excessive use of turbo boost, there's very little to compare the two games together; and no, you can't design your own tracks like you could in the NES game and its Nintendo 64 sequel -- let's get that one out of the way right from the start. But those who might not hold the nostalgia for the NES classic will see that the "Excite" more refers to the complete disregard for realism in favor of pushing some amazingly intense off-road racing on the console.
The game, developed by NASCAR-centric studio Monster Games, pushes an impressive racing design that puts players in competition against five other computer-controlled opponents across a variety of off-road, mountainous terrain. Using the Wii Remote in its "classic" orientation (holding it like an NES pad), you steer the vehicle by tilting it left or right, accelerate and brake with the 2 and 1 buttons, and turbo accelerate by mashing on any direction of the D-pad. Those are the basics, and it's simple enough that pretty much anyone can pick up the game for a spin.
But the game's got a level of complexity to it that fuels the whole "Excite" feel of Excite Truck. Turbo boosting is not optional -- it's integral. Though the boost is pretty much infinite, because the added acceleration heats up the engine you'll have to manage its use so you don't blow the motor. Letting up on the boost will bring the temperature down, but riding through water will cool it instantly...and this becomes a nice little point of strategy, as you can hold the turbo down along the bank of a stream and swerve in and out to keep the top speed going.
Boosting isn't just relegated to a button push, either. The game really jolts the adrenaline by incorporating automatic boosts when performing specific skills in the race. Hitting the boost at the end of a jump, for example, will gun the engines into overdrive to give your vehicle an extra jolt of momentum through the air. Land the vehicle on all four wheels after a jump by tilting the controller forward or backwards in mid-air will send your boost zooming for even more top speed acceleration. There are even some "POW" tokens that'll energize the vehicle with an invincibility power-up, giving extra speed as well as dominant strength to plow through the pack.
Other pick-ups include Exclamation Marks that affect specific locations of the track. Most cause realtime deformation of the landscape, creating enormous jumps and/or activating rings to leap through after a well-timed boost. If you can time the deforming effect properly, you can earn points if the newly formed land flings other racers through the air uncontrollably -- this is called "throwing" the truck, and because the game moves so freakin' fast, it's hard to call this strategy. It's more luck when it happens. Other Exclamation Marks cause other effects, like catching a forest on fire or sending an avalanche falling, many times opening up short cut routes that normally wouldn't be available without triggering them. Even if Excite Truck doesn't have quite the visual appeal as what the PS3 and Xbox 360's throwing at gamers this year, at the very least these triggered events are still very cool to watch as the scenery blazes by at a billion miles an hour.
Yes, big surprise: the game's more about the gameplay than the graphics. Even though Excite Truck isn't doing anything that couldn't have been done on other consoles with their analog stick inputs, the analog steering is handled really well with the left/right and forward/backward tilt functions of the Wii remote. There's a bit of a learning curve since there's no physical feedback to tighten the hands to the natural, neutral position, so you might find yourself weaving a bit in early races as you find the centerpoint of the game's steering. But after a few minutes of training the steering really does become natural to the hands. The rumble effects do a good job accentuating the off-road experience, but the speaker sound effect blaring out of the Wii Remote -- like vehicle explosions -- seem a little misplaced.
The vehicle handling is done really well in Excite Truck and skilled racers will never feel out of control... even when their cars are flying through the air at a height that's more in line with a game like Pilotwings. The level progression in Excite Truck does make it easy to blow through all of the tracks in an afternoon, but at the same time its point system ensures that you'll be playing those tracks over and over to get the highest ranking in order to unlock the game's Super Excite mode. The progression is point-based, so even though there's a huge reward for first place, it's not absolutely integral to beat the pack; as long as you cross the line with the specific point quota you can move on. This means you're encouraged to pull off extensive drifts, zoom past trees as close as possible, and smash into opposing vehicles for the needed points. And that right there adds a whole lot to the game's energy level.
The trick system is certainly integral to earning enough points for the S ranking requirement, but the way its handled makes it feel like it was thrown in as a last minute addition. Not that a truck racing game is expected to have a whole lot of tricks to pull off, but when it's boiled down to simply rotating the vehicle in a clockwise or counterclockwise spin while airborne...it just seems not so fleshed out as well as it could have been.
Even with the focus on gameplay, Excite Truck's no slouch when it comes to visuals as it throws a lot of cool effects like light blooming, transparent smoke, reflective water, and, as mentioned above, realtime land deformation. But the game's also running at around 30 frames per second with the occasional stutter and vertical tearing in places. In the audio department, well, you thankfully have the option to turn off the backwoods, NASCAR-centric jamsessions in favor of your own MP3 files on an SD Card. We say this with respect to the musicians responsible for Excite Truck's stock soundtrack: thank you, Monster Games, for giving the option to change it.
Excite Truck has a solid set of features that do an acceptable job extend the experience beyond the circuit progression. Beyond the two difficulty branches are three different minigames on existing Excite Truck tracks: a swerve-through-gates slalom challenge, a leap-through-rings jumping challenge, and a crash-into-opponents demolition challenge. But easily the weakest element of Excite Truck is its multiplayer component. Yes, you can play two players in this racer with the variety of vehicles and tracks that you've unlocked in the single player modes, but it's only a one-on-one race; no computer opponents populate the track to make things more intense. The designers push Excite Truck's attention towards a solitaire experience, and clearly the head-to-head was secondary in the game's development.
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