Monday, September 17, 2007

Excite Truck review

Not the review I was planning on writing tonight, but the other one I had pending required far more thought than my exhausted mind can handle as of now. Instead, here's something completely different.

Developer: Monster Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 19th 2006 (North America)
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
ESRB Notes: Mild Violence

Way, way way WAY back in the days of the NES, one of the greatest racing titles available was Excitebike. Nintendo followed up this amazing hit with Excitebike 64 for the Nintendo 64. Since then, there has been no other Excitebike. Instead, there has been only Excite Truck. Did Excite Truck hold up the amazing standard of it's franchise? Or did it bring nothing but shame to the legacy? The answers follow in my review.

Excite Truck wouldn't be much of an Excite-brand game without the series' trademark over-the-top gameplay. Realism? Bah! In Excite Truck, you're gonna be sending your 4X4 off cliffs, through trees and practically into the stratosphere. Twist and turn the controller to steer as you weave through crazily exaggerated locales such as Scotland, Mexico and Canada. Sound Excite-ing enough for you?

The controls in this game are really quite tight. Using only the Wii remote (No Nunchuk), you simply tilt your hands to steer. The Wii remote is held sideways in this game, with the D-pad on the left and the 1 and 2 buttons on the right. 2 is gas, 1 is break and the D-pad is used for the boost.

Be careful not to boost too often! Doing so will cause your engine to overheat! If your engine overheats, you start going very, very slow, and you cannot speed up or boost until your engine cools back down. Need to cool down quickly? Dipping into some shallow water will quench it immediately, and getting airborne will cool it much faster than sticking to the ground. The boost is also useful for getting a Turbo Jump. By tapping the D-pad just as you go airborne, you'll gain a huge boost and fly ahead by a great distance. Also, making all four wheels hit the ground at once gives you a little boost. Line up your wheels with the ground by tilting the controller, and try for the perfect landing!

Excite Truck is a weird game in that you don't have to cross the finish line first to win a race. Speed is important, but not as much as your score! Each level has a pre-determined point requirement which must be met in order to win the race. Stars (The game's point system) can be earned by smashing into other trucks, catching air, drifting, pulling off tricks and more. It's important to not take too long, though, as netting first place will get you 50 bonus stars. Placing anywhere from second to fifth also yields a star reward, but you get less depending on how far back you are. Also, coming in sixth does not get you any stars at all.

Don't go thinking "Hey, no problem! I'll just keep turning around near the finish line and pull off tricks until my score's high enough!". Each track has a strict time limit, and going over the limit will automatically disqualify you from the race. Also, doing any tricks while backtracking will not get you any points at all. The game's smarter than that, mister!

Tired of still, unmoving terrain? Well, grab a Terrain Morph and totally mess up the place! Driving your truck through an exclamation mark-shaped icon will cause the ground in front of you to raise and lower, often creating a ramp. Sometimes it will also set off a series of rings, which can be flown through for points. And in certain situations, instead of morphing the terrain, it will instead cause other forms of havoc, such as thunderstorms, forest fires and meteor showers.

Volcanoes are another form of nature's wrath you're
likely to incur.

Another icon you may see floating around bears a striking resemblance to the POW block from the original Mario Bros. Grabbing the POW icon will cause your truck to speed up greatly and become invincible. When affected by the POW power-up, you can plow through trees and opposing racers. But you will still crash if you hit a wall or fall into deep water, so be careful!

When you first start up Excite Truck, you'll have to work your way through a few training activities in order to familiarize yourself with the controls. Not exactly a necessity due to the game's simplistic nature, but it's nice to get an opportunity to further understand the Wii remote's abilities.

You'll also find that, upon your first play session, you'll have access to only three different trucks. Fear not, for winning races will unlock several new trucks, as well as different paint jobs for the truck you're racing in.

The game features three difficulty levels: Excite, Super Excite and Mirror. At first, only Excite will be accessible, but further play will unlock Super Excite, and then mirror. In Super Excite, the opponents are much better drivers, and you gain access to a new track, Nebula. In Mirror, the opponents are even better than in Super Excite, and all the tracks are mirrored (Like in Mario Kart). Star requirements also increase with each difficulty level.

Beyond normal racing, there's another single-player mode called Challenge. In this mode, you must fulfill difficult requirements. In Gate Challenge, you must steer your truck through many narrow gates. The gates get smaller and smaller as the race goes on, and taking too long between them will disqualify you. In Ring Challenge, the goal is to jump through several rings. These rings are incredibly difficult to reach, and missing one will decrease the point value of the following ring (To a minimum of 5). If you can't gather enough points by the end of the run, you lose the challenge. Then, there's the Crush Challenge, in which you must smash into all the opposing vehicles as hard as possible. The harder you smash into them, the more points you get. Again, like in Ring Challenge, if you don't get enough points, you lose. Challenge Mode also has two difficulty settings, Excite and Super Excite. In Super Excite, the challenges feature even higher requirements, and require extreme amounts of skill and precision to pass.

When it comes to graphics, Excite Truck is a fairly average title. While it looks somewhat better than most Gamecube games, it's nothing spectacular. Nonetheless, the Nebula stage really can take your breath away with it's crystalline beauty. The edges of the screen blur when you get going really fast, which is a nice little touch. Ultimately, however, Excite Truck only scores averagely in the looks department.

Excite Truck looks nice, but it sure isn't fantastic.

Excite Truck's score in the audio department may change depending on whether or not you have access to an SD card. Excite Truck is the first and (To my knowledge) only Wii title to allow users to put their own music into the game. So it pretty much goes without saying that if you have an SD card, the music's gonna get a perfect ten. It will be nothing but your favorite music, after all!

The common arguement of Excite Truck's soundtrack being comprised of little more than a single guitar riff is more than a slight exaggeration. Each country has it's own music, although it is the same song no matter which stage in that country you play. Still not a great selection, but more than most give it credit for.

The sound effects in the game are really worth noting. The engines sound great, and the whistling of nitrous shooting out your truck's tailpipe is quite realistic. And several sound effect, such as a puttering overheated engine and the chime of getting a point, are played through both the speakers of your TV as well as the speaker in the Wii remote. A nice touch, especially since so few games seem to be embracing this feature.

Of course, as anybody with even half a brain could guess, Excite Truck does have a multiplayer mode. Like in the standard single player races, the player with the highest amount of stars wins. The tracks have no star requirements, the competition is between the players alone.

A major problem with Excite Truck's multiplayer is that it only supports two players. Not four, like every Wii game should have, but two, and only two. This is an inexcusable shortcoming in my book.

Also, in multiplayer, it's very hard to see what's on your left or right due to the screen being split with a vertical line. Instead of the first player being up top and the second being below, the first is instead on the left with the second on the right. This does allow for far better sight of the road ahead than the standard screen-dividing style, but detecting objects on either side of you can be a pain. You may try to take a hard left only to crash into your opponent, mess up your turn and end up someplace completely different. Not exactly great for hectic races.

Oh, and online multiplayer? I hardly think that's an issue. Excite Truck was a launch title, and we all know very well that the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection only began supporting the Wii in North America this June. If Excite Truck were released today, yes, a lack of online would be terrible. But it wasn't, so this won't detract at all from the game's score.

What about this game's longevity? Well, Excite Truck sadly only features about 25 different tracks spread across three difficulty levels, so things may feel a little stale once you start your way through Super Excite mode. Multiplayer is pretty fun if you can get past it's problems, which is sure to add a bit to your overall playtime. It's really that kind of game where you'll play it, put it away for a while, then play it again. I've had it since January, and I still go for a race every now and then.


Gameplay: 9.0/10
The controls in Excite Truck are great. Doing an Air Spin can take a bit of practice, but once you get the idea, you barely even have to think about it when you pull it off. There's a decent variety of race locales, trucks and modes as well.

Graphics: 7.5/10
Excite Truck won't be winning any beauty contests nowadays, but it looks fairly impressive for a launch title. After all, it probably spent most of it's development time on a Gamecube development kit!

Audio: 8.0/10
The ability to import your own music into the game is great, and I hate that so few games (If any) have done the same so far. If you don't have access to a SD card and a PC, though, you may wanna knock about 1.5 off of this category's score.

Multiplayer: 5.0/10
The multiplayer in Excite Truck is a real disappointment. There's only support for two racers at a time, the screen being split vertically totally messes up side vision, and there's no CPU trucks on the track during multiplayer! Monster Games had better perform a major overhaul on this aspect if they ever make an Excite Truck 2.

Longevity: 8.0/10
Excite Truck will probably last you a while, but maybe not consecutively. It's kind of one of those games you play for a bit, put away, and play again. Still, beating Challenge mode and unlocking all the tracks in every difficulty level will take anybody quite some time.

OVERALL: 8.0/10
Excite Truck is a great racer, and a worthy successor to the Excite name. It's easily one of my favorite games on the system, and definitely one of the most underrated of all Wii games. Buy this game, or at least give it a rental. Perhaps if enough people get behind it, we can see a sequel less than two generations from now!

That's all for tonight, folks. Time for this duck to catch some "Z"s...

The Duck Has Spoken.

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