Excite Truck. The name’s supposed to evoke Nintendo’s early 8-bit NES game Excitebike, a side-scrolling motocross title that let you tilt the bike’s tires relative to jumps and flat surfaces, and accelerate up to dangerous, engine-damaging levels. Thanks to 3-D graphics, the Wii’s position and motion-sensitive wireless controller, and a thorough redesign that now focuses entirely on off-road truck driving, Excite Truck takes those concepts to the next level, with generally positive results.

The skinny: As noted in Part II of our Wii Weekend post, Excite Truck feels like a mixture of the arcade game Off Road, Nintendo 64’s Cruis’n USA, and the PlayStation’s Burnout series, mixed with a little of the Warthog jump cinematography players have created with the Xbox game Halo. If the references are too obscure for you, this is a driving game with a lot of speed, lots and lots of jumps and “floating in the air” time, more than a few slowed-down crashes with the ability to turbo-charge right back into the race, and many “whoa, that’s cool” visual moments.

 

Excite Truck is also a prime example of what’s good and bad about the Wii’s wireless controller. You control the entire game by holding the remote like a steering wheel, pressing its 2 button to accelerate, and pressing the directional pad to fire off turbo charges. Much like Excitebike, you can use the controller to tilt your wheels forward, backward, or flat while taking and landing jumps, and using too much turbo power will blow out your engine. These controls are fairly easy for anyone – even our token “casual game tester” – to pick up.

 

Well, mostly. When the Wii’s controller is responding properly, it doesn’t feel quite as good (or provide feedback) as a steering wheel would, and you never have a definite sense of where the wheel is pointing at a given split-second; it’s all relative, and best figured out when you’re in mid-air, watching your dune buggy or SUV-style truck turn. And when it’s not responding properly, which does happen more than once in a while, the steering wheel doesn’t seem to be moving at all – sort of like the old arcade machine steering wheel that some person had smashed so hard that it wouldn’t register your turns properly. Our conclusions after a bunch of play time? Excite Truck can be a lot of fun, but it would have been even better if you had the option to just use the Wii Nunchuk’s analog joystick for control. More on that, and more pictures, if you click below.


So there’s a ton to like about Excite Truck. Besides the chance to race in a multi-path, open environment full of natural obstacles, there are little icons that appear at certain areas of the track – exclamation points will trigger landmass shifts mid-race, creating big hills for jumps, valleys, or more subtle changes. A POW icon turns your truck into a scenery killing machine, calling up sound effects of ambulances for a brief period while you smash through trees and other vehicles with near invincibility. We really enjoyed the sheer number of jumps and corresponding chances to check out all the land on the horizon – they’re always, always cool.

 


Your truck constantly feels like it’s flying through the air. Triggering certain exclamation marks will create mid-air rings, each of which scores you a point (star), and multiples scoring you many stars. Crashing into the other trucks and driving through trees will also earn you stars, and each of the game’s levels requires you to have stars to move on. We’ve been impressed by the number and variety of levels – Fijian islands, Canadian forests, Scottish and Chinese countrysides, a Finnish glacier and snow level, Mexican desert, and other stages each appear to show up more than once across different unlockable medal classes, and though we have our favorites, there’s no truly bad course, though there’s rarely any visual landmark that makes a given track or turn memorable, either. Rock-ish music and engine-revving sound effects are similarly a bit forgettable; if there was a soundtrack, we wouldn’t be buying it.

 

Our only real gripe with Excite Truck is the control, which could really benefit from the aforementioned Nunchuk option and/or a calibration screen for the steering wheel-style use of the Wii remote. Rather than feeling twitchy, steering feels a bit too nuanced and unresponsive at times, and the option to just rely upon the known analog stick would have been much appreciated. But Nintendo and its developer Monster Games clearly thought that would be defeating the point of this game: to demonstrate Wii’s ability to transform a fairly typical truck driving game into a very different experience simply by virtue of its mandatory, different control scheme. When it’s working – 95% of the time – it does that wonderfully. When it’s not, at least you won’t have to find the guy who runs the arcade and ask for your tokens back: you can always just try again. And trust us, you will. If the theme is enough to convince you to give the game a try, you’ll find it compelling enough to keep playing for hours. It’s one of the better old school arcade-style racing games we’ve seen in years.