With new vehicles, a slew of new functions, and the same exhilarating racing, Excite Truck's successor comes in with a bang.
Before the Wii was released in North America, the first game I had the pleasure of experiencing was the glorious Excite Truck. Love at first sight, I hastily picked up the game when it became available at the Wii launch alongside Twilight Princess. Though Zelda ate up a significant amount of my time, I undoubtedly invested far more into Nintendo's launch racer.
When Excitebots: Trick Racing was announced, I knew that I had to review the game—that is, until I saw its premise and started to have second thoughts. Bots, bars, sports, and pie faces seemed like an odd conglomeration of things to toss into a racing game, especially Excite Truck. Despite my inhibitions I gave the game a shot; it turns out that Monster Games and Nintendo were definitely onto something.
Though at first glance Excitebots looks very different, at its core it still offers the solid high-speed, big-airtime racing of Excite Truck, complete with the star-based ranking system in which coming in first does not always guarantee a win (only 50 bonus stars). As with Excite Truck, players need to get big air, do tree runs, perform mid-air spins, smash trucks, and pull off big drifts to win and, with practice, earn an "S" ranking. Excitebots has built on this core formula and added a number of new key features that set the game apart from its predecessor.
As the subtitle suggests, Excitebots is all about trick racing. As players traverse any given course, they will be presented with a slew of opportunities to perform tricks. These are done in a number of different ways. Each level now features a mandatory Red Bar which your bot must spin around a number of times in order to move on. For rhythmically performing a cranking motion with the Wii Remote, players are awarded up to ten stars and a potential boost for a perfect performance. Similar player interaction is necessary in order to complete the other tricks in the game,
Players will also have the option of performing tricks on Yellow Bars and springy Flip Bars (both optional), which offer up to five stars each and a potential boost for good performance. Bad performance on the yellow bar is punished by sending your bot spinning through the air towards an imminent crash, unless you can luckily stabilize your bot and recover, for which you are awarded with one star. Other challenges players will have the option of tacking include hitting a soccer ball into a net (5 stars), kicking a field goal (5 stars), knocking down a set of bowling pins (up to 10 stars), throwing a dart (up to 5 stars), throwing a pie in a clown's face (up to 5 stars), hitting a homerun (up to 5 stars), and fishing (up to 5 stars). All of these challenges occur mid-race and require player action while still driving through the track. For instance, hitting one of the question marks (which only modified the terrain in Excite Truck) might set up bowling pins or a soccer ball to drive into.
Also new to the game is the weapon system, which players can use to both obtain stars and defeat opponents. Things like hammers, bombs, and chompers attack enemies, causing them to slow down or be sent shooting into the air. The rocket and tambourine give players a speed advantage: the rocket does so automatically, while the tambourine requires a rhythm mini-game for up to 5 stars and a boost.
The game's crazy challenges, combined with the new weapon system, make for a truly hectic, yet enjoyable racing experience. The branching paths featured in Excite Truck have also returned and are now even more important, as each path holds different challenges.
Though Excitebots brings a lot of positive things to the table, there are a couple of detractors. For one, the game is quite easy. Where Excite Truck makes you work to earn the stars necessary to achieve an "S" ranking on a given track, Excitebots makes earning one quite easy due to the plethora of challenges and bars scattered throughout the tracks. Excitebots also skimps on new levels. Players familiar with Excite Truck will quickly notice that almost half of the twenty-five levels have been carried over from the preceding game. Thankfully, the new additions breathe new life into the reprised levels, making them feel at least somewhat different.
The final major complaint I have with the game is the again-horrendous soundtrack. While the terrible "Butt Rock" has been removed, it has been replaced with equally annoying music that is reminiscent of Mario Kart Wii but not nearly of the same caliber. Even worse, players can no longer listen to their own music off of an SD card, as they could in Excite Truck.
Fortunately, the Excitebots-exclusive online mode easily makes up for these detractors, extending the game's life enormously. Players can match up against up to five other competitors in either a normal race or a poker race, a new race type that allows players to drive into cards to complete a poker hand and earn stars. In either race type, as in single player mode, players strive to obtain the most stars within the race in order to win. Excitebots spices up this simple equation by allowing players to bet a number of stars on their performance prior to each race. In a six-person race, coming in the top two spots quadruples or doubles the number of stars bet, while third is a push, and lower will result in losing all bet stars. Players uninterested in online play will be disappointed to know that local multiplayer is still limited to one-on-one face-offs in vertical split-screen matches.
Overall, Excitebots: Trick Racing is a fantastic game. While it hasn't perfected what Excite Truck started, it offers a fresh experience that is unlike anything before. Even fans of Excite Truck will be thrown for a loop when they take on the virtual high-speed obstacle course that is Excitebots. Fans of light-hearted arcade racing would do well to take Excitebots out for a spin.