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Written by  :  Joshua J. Slone (4671)
Written on  :  May 27, 2007
Rating  :  3.2 Stars3.2 Stars3.2 Stars3.2 Stars3.2 Stars

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Not an A game, but a top-tier B game

The Good

Excite Truck is a very different kind of racing game, and once you really get that into your head there really is a lot of EXCITE waiting for you; it's not just a recycled brand name. This isn't a game about getting to the end of the course first. That certainly helps, but it's only one way to earn points. You can drive relatively safely, get to the finish line, and earn 50 points for coming in first, but you're going to get a poor letter rank for doing so. Additional points are earned for smashing other trucks, driving through sets of trees without crashing, making huge jumps, jumping through sets of rings, drifting, air spins, and more.

Controls are simple, but take time to get used to. Considering it was one of my first Wii games and motion control in general was new, it's hard for me to tell how much of the learning curve was due to the game or the system in general. You hold the remote sideways in the NES position, and use it like a steering wheel. 2 is acceleration, 1 is brake/reverse (like that gets used much), and pressing the d-pad uses turbo. Use too much turbo and the truck will overheat, though you can help keep it cool by driving through water or spending more time in the air. When in the air, you can additionally tilt the truck back or forth. Early, everything felt very loose, but now it's like second nature. Some people will probably give up on the game before that early stage passes, though.

Each course has a different number of points required to earn various letter grades; a B is necessary to earn access to further cups in the same difficulty, but to unlock new difficulties one will need to earn S ranks. Some reviews say the game is too short; I wonder how many of these people managed to B their way through the standard Excite difficulty, think they'd seen what the game had to offer, and called it a day? I believe it's when trying to get S ranks (in both Excite and later Super Excite difficulty) that the game really starts to click. Faced with needing to find a way to earn a few dozen more points, you have to start really learning both the tricks and the courses. Learn which forks to take, learn how to do a proper boost jump, learn where you can cut through a set of trees or make a long drift, and try to put it all together without crashing too much or coming in behind other racers... then you will properly experience the excitement! It's a great feeling to make a jump thousands of feet long and immediately turn it into a boost which becomes another jump.

Other than the increasingly exciting play experience, they also keep you coming back by slowly unlocking new trucks, each of which you can further use to earn an alternate paint job for it. From large trucks that with slow handling that can guarantee you big jumps to small craft with quick handling, they certainly don't all feel the same; often the difference between frustration and an easy win on a track is picking the right truck. Another lesser incentive to keep playing is that the game will keep track of things like how many super truck smashes, super drifts, and other such things you do, occasionally granting you a new trophy which you can always go and not only view, but tilt around with the remote.

There are also powerups, which computer trucks cannot activate. By running into exclamation point icons, the track will change in some way. A tower will fall down, a hill will get taller and allow for bigger jumps, more rings will appear in the air, the track will dip and reveal an alternate path. Some of these effects will last throughout the race while others are individually activated per lap, but it certainly does add another exclamation point to the experience to fling other trucks into the air by creating a new hill underneath them, or have the mountains part way for you to pass through. By running through a POW icon, your truck will temporarily become very fast and able to smash through other trucks as well as trees with ease, though rocks and buildings will remain a hazard.

Graphically the game is slightly more good than bad. If there was a "The Mediocre" section it would go there. There are a few points that stick out: pieces flying away from crashes look cheap, and things like shrubbery load in slowly enough after you come back down to earth from a big jump that it's obvious. However, it looks clean, has a nice draw distance, and the frame rate never horribly dips, so it does take care of the important stuff.

The Bad

The AI is horribly rubberbandy. If you're taking longer to get through the course, so will they. More than once, I have gotten first in a race (even set a time record), and on the next attempt got a better time but instead came in last.

Sound is the game's least admirable aspect. The rock is very generic and not worth listening to. The game does allow you to instead use MP3 files from an SD card, which is great. Playing Excite Truck with music from Katamari Damacy, Ouendan or the Steve Miller Band is a blast, but that doesn't earn this game much credit. Even with ProLogic II the effects are nothing to write home about, either, for a game full of big trucks, crashes, and boosts.

Though the single-player race modes are great fun, the other options feel tacked on:

Multiplayer is a big disappointment. Whereas racing with five other trucks is properly exciting, with only one human opponent... not so much. Things feel very empty, and if you're of different skill levels it can largely feel like you're all alone on the track. You might have more fun just taking turns on the single-player mode.

Challenge Mode contains a few challenges intended to force you to hone particular skills. Gate Challenge has you racing between beams of light on the track, so you must stay on course. Ring Challenge has you attempting to jump through increasingly-difficult rings in the air. Crush Challenge doesn't take place on a regular course, but gives you free reign over one of the areas, where you attempt to crush the other trucks going about their business. These modes exist... but they don't attract a whole lot of attention.

A somewhat weak spot is that the game lacks track variety; there are six main areas, each with several track variants used throughout the game. All snow races take place in the Finland area for instance, but the specific courses within can vary greatly thanks to use of different paths and big transparent walls with arrows to prevent you from cutting the wrong way. A jump that in one Finland track ends the race may be the middle of a second track, and not even present in the third. Things are certainly mixed up, but all tracks from one country will feel very samey.

The Bottom Line

Bottom line, there's a lot of fun to be had in this game, but it doesn't quite get anything perfect. Thus, not an A game, but a top-tier B game. I'm left with the feeling that a sequel with more time spent on it could really knock my socks off.