A Great Proof of Concept, But Not A Great Game
Excite Truck, a Wii launch title, is an arcade-styled racing game similar to Burnout. Though there is a lot to like about this game, its lack of content and occasionally wonky controls hold the game back. Excite Truck represents an excellent 'proof of concept'. The unique racing experience and the controls, for the most part, create a thrilling, fun game. But future games in the series need to add more of just about everything and refine the core gameplay.
Excite Truck is a new entry into the 'Excite' series introduced by way of Excite Bike on the NES. The gameplay of Excite Truck focuses primarily on earning stars by doing a number of feats during races. Certain tricks, like drifting around corners, can rank from one star to five stars depending on the duration of the trick. Placing first in a race will give the player 50 stars with each place below first receiving an ever decreasing number of stars. The goal of each race in Excite Truck is to earn a specific number of stars in order to advance. Each race has an average star ranking which is represented by a grade. The grades range from D to S (S being the grade above A). The player can conceivably earn an S rank while not placing first in a race but the star reward for earning first is so strong that most players will still attempt to do so. The races are broken up into four tournaments; Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Most of the tournaments, with the exception being the Bronze tournament, have five race events each. As the player progresses through the tournaments the A.I. racers perform better, the feats become harder to pull off, and the star requirements become stiffer. The game only has five unique race tracks and ten unique trucks. Each truck has unique racing stats but not always a unique racing feel. The only stat I really cared about was the overall speed stat. For the most part, the handeling for each truck remains unchanged despite the apparent differences in stats. Though the number of tracks are disappointing each track felt unique and were well designed. The most unique aspect of each track is that the track itself can be deformed. Along the track players can run over icons that can deform the track by either raising or lowering the track's plane for that specific lap of the race. Some of these icons can even cause scripted events to occur similar to another arcade racing game, Split/Second. For example, one such icon causes a building to collapse permanently altering the race track. These track deformations allow the player to earn even more stars. To earn S-ranks, utilizing these alterations are absolutely required.
The game is controlled by holding the Wii remote sideways with the d-pad pointing up. The trucks are turned by tilting the Wii remote left and right. Gas and brake is controlled by a button press and the d-pad, when pressed, gives the trucks a speed boost. The trucks have a boost limit which is tied to the heat of the truck's engine. So, if the truck is overheating, the player can't utilize the boost for a brief period unless the player drives the truck into a bed of water. The controls usually work just fine. Most of the tracks don't require much precision and the tracks are usually fairly wide allowing for the inevitable over-steering created by the control scheme. Though it takes a little while to get used to, the turning works just fine the majority of the time. However, control issues become apparent when the player has to be precise. Tight turns and quick movements used for steering corrections are nearly impossible. This is only an issue when the player is trying to earn S-ranks on every race. But, earning S-ranks is the primary reason anyone would keep playing the game making the control issues an unfortunate reality for most players of the game.
The game is pretty easy and very short. Over the weekend a player can earn an S-rank on every racing event, unlock the game's final tournament, and S-rank all of those races as well. There is a Challenge play-mode but these challenges are essentially extended versions of the feats found in the regular single-player. I didn't find these challenges particularly engaging. There is also a multiplayer but it is only local 2-player and, due to the lack of tracks, isn't engaging either. Finally, there is an unlockable difficulty setting but I didn't feel the need to experience the single-player experience again after I had completed it.
Technically, this game is pretty impressive for a lot of reasons. The graphical engine allows for a dramatic draw distance for this console, a rock solid frame rate which appeared to be 30 fps, and very vibrant colors. The game runs in progressive scan and looked great on my HDTV. The majority of the textures are pretty blurry but, when the game is running so damn fast, these texture issues are not much of a problem. The default music isn't all that great mostly consisting of bland instrumental rock. But, this is one of the few Wii games that allows for a custom soundtrack by way of an SD card. The sound quality of the music, whether default or not, isn't particularly good but it is still cool that the custom soundtrack option is there. The sound effects are all appropriate and standard for the genre. Like the music, the sound quality of the effects are not impressive.
Excite Truck isn't an excellent first-entry in a new series of 'Excite' games. There is a lot of work to be done and future games need quite a bit more content but the foundation has been laid. The graphics engine is well made, the controls are good overall, and the dynamic nature of the tracks are impressive and fun to experience. Though not perfect, Excite Truck is a fun, exciting arcade racing game that gives me a lot of hope for future games in the series.