Excite Truck was a Wii launch game that shipped with minimal modes and options, but that didn't stop some from screaming its virtues from the rooftops. Its spiritual successor, Excitebots: Trick Racing is an about face where aesthetics are concerned, but does the breakneck, nerve-wracking speed fix remain?
Just like its predecessor, the entire game is governed by stars. Every turn you drift around, every stitch of gravity you defy, and every checkered flag you take gives them up. Coming in first isn't enough. The final order of finish is determined by a combination of how many stars you roll up and when you cross the finish line. The stars can then be used to purchase frivolities like trophies and dioramas, or more useful wares like new vehicles.
Excite Truck didn't bring much in the way of modes. Excitebots is much better, but still not great. The primary single-player mode has you competing in a series of cups very similar to the F-Zero franchise. As you complete each race with a high enough place and enough flash you'll move onto the next. This process repeats until you've raced each course more than a few times.
The multiplayer is where things have really improved. Aside from going head-to-head on one machine, you can jump online and square off against five random strangers or folks on your friends list. There are two types of races including the typical line-to-line and a poker event where you must pick up card power-ups to build a hand. The online play is incredibly smooth, matching up with opponents is easy, and you can even bet stars you've earned to build a massive bank account. You're going to need it if you want all the vehicles.
This is what sets Trick Racing apart from Excite Truck more than anything. Instead of dune buggies and Baja trucks, you're driving metal creatures. Yes, you heard that right. Bats, spiders, frogs, you name it. There are too few of these cybernetic critters, but at least they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
There's a wide variety of tracks strewn all across the globe. China, Fiji, Guatemala, Tasmania, and many more make up the list of locales. Each course has plenty of split routes that reward the daring and punish the foolish, though huge leads can easily be squandered with one wrong move.
The final component is a series of mini-games where entire courses are built out of the game's various components. You can also use the Wi-Fi connection to give and receive replays and challenges.
It's not loaded with vehicles or modes, but Excitebots has plenty of diverse tracks and a surprisingly passable multiplayer mode. It's a decent upgrade over Excite Truck, but when compared to the true stalwarts of the genre, it falls well short.
At the Wii's launch, Excite Truck was the first satisfying racing game to use the tilt controls, but it still had its issues. The crazy oversteer and dead zones in the handling have been drastically improved, giving you more control and less fear as you round each turn at mach five. The sense of speed is incredible, yet you rarely feel out of control or at the mercy of the game. There are a few areas where the track's a little too narrow for the control precision available, but you won't blame the game for too many crashes.
The big addition to the gameplay is a series of bars that your vehicle attaches to with varying results. The red bars ask you to rotate the Wii remote in time to the vehicle swinging around it. The yellow bar provides insane turbo boosts, the flip bar lets you perform backflips to gain stars, and the elevator bar opens up new areas of the track. Their implementation is solid and adds a timing element to the game that breaks things up.
Powerups are much more prevalent and diverse. You can drop anvils, smash with a hammer, use funny teeth, turn your vehicle into its bipedal version, and the list goes on and on. Some of them can be difficult to use, but there's no denying they're fun. You'll also find yourself splitting the uprights, tossing darts, and scoring soccer goals during each race. These environmental sports extras provide large bonuses and a sense of scale to the visuals.
The final gameplay elements include managing the heat level of your vehicle and tricks. You can boost as much as you want, but eventually your vehicle will overheat. Driving across water or catching air will cool it off, and managing this tug of war becomes essential on the hardest difficulty setting. Each vehicle can perform a couple silly tricks, and while they're not much fun to perform, they're an easy way to boost your star count.
At times, Excitebots feels like the closest thing to F-Zero on the Wii. There are so many close calls, massive jumps, and gushing bursts of speed that you can't help but have a good time. With improved controls, added depth with the bar play, and a ton of powerups, no two races ever play out the same. The AI can be a little too forgiving, but if you don't have at least a little fun playing this game you might be dead inside.
One thing that hasn't improved much is the presentation. About the only positive thing that can be said about it is that the frame rate stays rock solid at all times. The vehicles look ridiculous and are crudely modeled, and the tracks feature repetitive objects, simple geometry, and blurry textures. Some fare better than others, but you'll see details drawing in as you near the ground after huge jumps, and some of the pre-race track shots are downright embarrassing. Yet it's hard to notice how bad things look when you're screaming along at hundreds of miles per hour. If anything, the visuals never get in the way of enjoying the game.
The same can't be said about the music, which is downright atrocious. It doesn't matter what your taste is, suffering through these soulless, hook-less electronic monstrosities is not recommended. For some unknown reason the ability to stream MP3s off the SD card that was in Excite Truck has been removed, so your options are limited. The vehicles still sound like lawn mowers, but at least it makes more sense here than it did in its predecessor.
Excitebots: Trick Racing is one of those games that will turn off many by its looks alone. We recommend giving it a chance, though. It's a little light on features, but it delivers where it really counts. The racing is fast and with enough peripheral elements to keep it interesting, and its crazier side makes it unique.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.