Anticipation. There is no denying that if you were a gamer in November of 2006, anticipation permeated your gaming appetite in a way never before seen. In retrospect, it’s quite difficult to even fathom the launch of both the PS3 and Wii, the release of Resistance Fall of Man, Gears of War, Wii Sports, and a new Zelda title could all happen in the same month. What’s even more difficult? The prospect of just about any other game released at the time to be noticed, let alone played. And when you are an over the top, extreme, arcade racer that acts as a spiritual sequel to a game released over six years ago, you have a mountain, not a hill to climb. Thankfully, what Excite Truck had going for it was the now classic Nintendo logo on the cover, and an excitingly fresh way to play racers at home through the brand new Wii Remote. As if that wasn’t enough, the game was (and still is) a blast to play, seemingly setting the standard for future racers on the Big N’s shiny new system.
Usually, if a franchise has gone three for three in the way of substituting developers in all three games released thus far, you’ll most likely find that perhaps the series as a whole isn’t quite panning out as was originally conceived, or perhaps gameplay feels slightly confusing because of a lack of uniformity between all of the games. Not so with the Excite franchise, and as Left Field Productions makes way for Monster Games under the guidance of Nintendo in Excite Truck, basic gameplay mechanics in the game feel altogether right and well. As always, the goal here is to race through several over the top tracks over a wide range of exciting locales and landscapes. While one track may drop you into the scorching Mexico deserts, your next race may play out over the many islands of Fiji, or the icy mountains in Finland.
If the traditional arcade racer locales don’t excite you, then the hulking jumps that each track offers undoubtedly will. Like in previous Excite efforts, large hills for jumps are intrinsic to each and every track, and you probably won’t go so much as fifteen seconds before hitting your next jump. But where Excite Truck differs from previous titles is in just how outlandish and massive many of the jumps are. It’s not unheard of to see a jump that reaches 1000s of feet in altitude, solidifying the fact that Excite Truck is more parts arcade racer than any previous effort bearing the “Excite” name. To increase the size of the jumps to an even greater extent, racers can take the privilege of morphing the track by driving into the multiple hovering exclamation point items peppered throughout each track. As you blast through the exclamation point item, book-it up the newly created hill, and fly off, the wind is all that surrounds you as the music disappears, and the ground is seemingly an eternity below. If you can manage to land with all four wheels flat on the ground, you are rewarded with a small speed boost - a satisfying way to cap off what is easily the highlight of the game. You’re in luck - these heart pounding moments are just about everywhere.
There are also a variety of other welcomed additions that compliment Excite Truck’s fast-paced, manic gameplay that fans of previous Exitebike games may or may not recognize. The turbo function makes its return, and is utilized by holding down any direction on the Control Pad. And what would turbo be without a temperature gauge that measures just how long to hold the button before you result in the inability to use it and consequently an overheated vehicle? Items such as the exclamation point trigger will not only create lofty jumps, but may do such tasks as drowning a portion of a track in a drivable pool of water. These little water pools can be strategically used to your advantage in any given race. Drivable water cools down your engine, which means if you know a track well enough, you may turbo for a lengthy period of time, alter the landscape to water (or just drive into previously set water) and have your temperature shoot back down to zero - you’re ready to turbo again. You can gain speed and enough power to mow down trees with a Power Item, scarce items most often placed in a heavily tree dense area. Even crashing can be fun. Not only does the game zoom in on your vehicle while switching into a slow-mo effect so you can enjoy your wipeout up close and personal, but if you tap 2 (accelerate) as fast as you can, you can return to the race with a speed boost - a superlative job by the developers to keep gameplay fast and wild.
Where the guys over at Monster Games really delivered was in the star point system that all races revolve around. Single player races require players to score star achievements in order to progress, and altogether “win” in the game. These attainable stars are players’ tickets to unlocking the next set of races, as well as their own letter grade for each race. Anybody can acquire stars through several different techniques - drifting, spinning your truck while in the air, creating consecutive jumps, and jumping through a series of rings to name a few. Players are rewarded even more stars for performing these tasks well, and it’s important to note that there’s not a complete emphasis on star collecting; crossing the finish line in a top position is a surefire way to obtain a plethora of bonus stars, all of which vary at what place you finish. All tracks have their own star requirement players must meet, while concurrently offering a time limit players must abide by in order to progress. It’s an incredible balance between pulling off a multitude of satisfying stunts and maneuvers while winning the race that sets Excite Truck apart from many racers of its kind. You just wish there were more than five other racers to compete against.
It becomes quite apparent that Excite Truck was one of the first ever Wii racers when you pick up the title again today. Controls are some of the most important aspects in racers, and when they suffer, typically the whole game does as well. Excite Truck, although pioneering the Remote on its side way to play, didn’t quite get it right back in 2006. No matter the vehicle you are controlling, each turn of the Remote seems to be a bit unresponsive. At times a simple turn to the right may send you flying into a tree if you aren’t careful. What’s astonishing is that this still doesn’t completely ruin gameplay like it would may other racers. While there is no alternative to the horizontal Remote style, and it can be frustrating to deal with mediocre turns at times, the argument can still be made that it’s still more preferable than moving a joystick because of the new level of immersion for veterans of racing titles and also to those that perhaps wouldn’t have picked up the controller any other way. It should also be noted that only a standard over the truck camera view is available and replays could have used the option of skipping time back/ahead, but these gripes are anything but major and most probably won’t take the time to complain about either.
Possessing both widescreen and 480p support, Excite Truck still surprises visually to this day. It almost seems that when the Wii came out, many developers were actually trying to push the system’s hardware capabilities, contrary to the popular just-get-by attitude many developers today have on the console. Environments never lack in the lighting department, crashes are displayed vividly and look great, and the element of speed is well highlighted as you whiz past opponents and objects. Your trucks and other items can lack textures, which is disappointing, but not as disappointing as the provided soundtrack. Rarely does it ever escape being very bland and very generic rock. It’s a shame because Metroid’s own Kenji Yamamoto acts as one of the two main composers and after listening to every track you most likely wouldn’t have guessed. It’s almost as if they wanted you to skip all of the packed music on purpose and go straight to the SD card functionality as the first Wii game to show of the feature. Sound woes are left exclusively in the music department, as all racing sound effects are never overused and provide a sense of real racing, especially when listening to the sound of all six racer engines humming wildly before a race.
Excite Truck probably isn’t a game you’re going to sit and play for hours on end, all day every day. Rather, it’s a game you’ll be happy to have in your library when an urge to play comes over you, and Excite Truck will be patiently waiting. There’s no end to the amount of unlockable modes in Excite Truck, whether that be more difficult single player modes, a mirror mode, tons of trucks(each with different stats and customization paint options), trophies, records, and crazy challenge modes that, along with many of the races further into the game, will no doubt be giving you a run for your money in terms of difficulty. Another player can test his or her skill against you in multiplayer racing, and while online play is sorely missed, you can’t complain when online gaming wasn’t even offered for Wii yet. It’s doubtful anyone will ever consider it one of the best on the system because of its launch-title hiccups and questionable design issues, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t do the Excite name proud. Even more so, it’s straight up fun to play, and what more can you ask for in a video game?