ExciteTruck (Wii)

Nintendo Wii (2007)

Let it be known that I absolutely hated ExciteBike 64, Nintendo’s attempt at dragging the previously side-scrolling Excitebike motorcycle racing game into the world of 3D. Its combination of blurry textures and bad frame rates stunk like exhaust fumes. I don’t care what any other reviewer thought of the game neither then nor now. As a long time fan of the original two-dimensional version, I thought the N64 version was a disaster, and to be honest I didn’t have terribly high hopes for ExciteTruck, the third game in the series and the first to appear on the Nintendo Wii. Turns out, I was way off – ExciteTruck is one of the most enjoyable arcade-style racing games I’ve played in a long time.

Unlike ExciteBike 64, which tried too hard to modernize the original ExciteBike, ExciteTruck actually has very little in common with its ancestors. While both ExciteTruck and ExciteBike include racing, jumping, and turbo boosters that overhead way too easily, there are enough differences between the two that ExciteTruck is probably best classified as an entirely original game.

ExciteTruck is controlled by holding the Wiimote sideways, in what has become the conventional “driving” style. Steering is performed by turning the Wiimote as if it were an actual steering wheel. The “2” button acts as a gas pedal, while pressing the d-pad in any direction fires off your turbo boosters. (For you wimps out there, “1” acts as a brake. Or so I’ve read.) Like the original, the key to maintaining your speed after jumping is landing with all four wheels on the ground. To do this you’ll need to tilt the Wiimote forward/backward, to ensure your truck hits the ground level.

Right out of the box, ExciteTruck offers gamers choices between three trucks and four tracks. Beating each track involves not only outracing all other AI vehicles but also amassing a predetermined number of stars. Stars are earned by performing various tricks, such as drifting, spinning, or simply bashing into your opponents. The length or skill at which these tricks are performed determines the amount of stars players will be rewarded with; finishing a race in first, second or third place will also award winners with stars. After each race your performance will be graded (A, B, C). Outstanding players who can achieve an “S” ranking on all four tracks will begin to unlock additional tracks and trucks.

Before long it becomes apparent that there is a ton of unlockable content in ExciteBike. Achieving “S” ratings on every track in Excite Race mode will unlock Super Excite Race Mode; beating all those tracks will unlock Mirror Race Mode, and so on. I suspect it will take gamers many a mud-slinging night of racing to unlock every car, track and mode in ExciteTruck.

Included in each track are multiple bonus items. Running over exclamation marks changes the immediate terrain in front of you, usually adding a needed ramp or occasionally adding previously hidden rings (which can be leapt through for more stars). POW power ups give your truck an extended boost of turbo and some much needed temporary invincibility.

I have two gripes about ExciteTruck, both of them minor. The first is that the game’s aerial trick system is limited to one trick (a simple 360/720 spin). With such an arcade-feel to the rest of the game, it just feels like you should be able to perform back flips or something. My other gripe (even smaller than the first) is that the original version of ExciteBike does not appear to be included as an unlockable extra, as the game can be purchased through Nintendo’s online virtual console. I’m all for the big N making a buck or two, but the game was included in ExciteBike 64 and it feels a little cheap not to include it here as well.

ExciteTruck is an exciting, action-packed racing game that’s enjoyable in either one or two player split-screen mode. Beating each level requires a balance between performing tricks to obtain stars and keeping the pedal to the metal (or your thumb to the plastic). ExciteTruck is so good that it almost made me forget that I once paid money for ExciteBike 64. Hallelujah.

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