Inside Pulse 12

Review: Excitebots: Trick Racing (Nintendo Wii)

Excitebots: Trick Racing
Genre: Racing
Developer: Monster Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 04/20/2009


From the outside, you may think you have already played Excitebots in 2006, when it was called Excite Truck and released as a launch game for the Nintendo Wii. Get that thought right out of your head! The two games may share the same engine and half a name, but Excitebots is a completely different beast. In the spirit of the games, let’s compare Excite Truck to a car. Excitebots would be the same car, after being featured on Pimp My Ride, but with Xzibit and his crew working on the car while under the influence. This game truly is unlike anything you have played before.

Still, the question remains: Is this only a case of “style over substance”, or does it back up its overall wackiness with solid gameplay?

STORY/MODES
The meat of the game is the single-player mode. It consists of completing each race while trying to get the best grade possible. Finishing every race with an “S” unlocks the Super Excite difficulty, and completing that unlocks mirror mode. The structure of the single-player game is basically the same as every other racing game developed or published by Nintendo. Races are divided into different cups, which you must finish to get to the next tier and unlock more cars.

The next mode is called Poker Racing mode, in which the objective is to collect cards scattered around the tracks in order the get good hands and score more stars. It is a great idea, but it is not entirely original. Long-time readers of this site will remember a little-known PC game called Arctic Stud Poker Run which used a racing/poker hybrid as a basis. While the way poker is implemented in each game is different, the basic idea is very similar.

We then have the mini-games mode, which offers some of the task you would be given in a normal race to be played by individually. It is a nice distraction when played with friends, but some of the fun is lost when these mini-games are pulled from the actual races.

Finally, we have the multiplayer option. This can be played offline in a split-screen mode, which works fine but can only accommodate two players. The online option is much better and almost worth the price of admission by itself. Up to six players can compete at the same time, betting stars they acquired during the single-player mode on the outcome on the outcome of the race. Higher rankings means more money, and outperforming strangers can rapidly become an obsession, as depending on your skills, the mode can become a quick way to accumulate stars and unlock more stuff.

The single-player options are enjoyable, but they can be completed in a short time. The multiplayer mode is really what makes this game shine.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

GRAPHICS
The first thing noticeable is the dull menus, but they are quickly offset by solid in-game visuals. The animal-themed vehicles are all shiny and metallic in design and the nice reflection and lighting effects wonderfully emphasize that.

The tracks are visually stunning, mostly because they showcase a wide variety of terrains. From mountains to beaches and forests, the different environments are sharply rendered and cause much amazement. The courses’ design gives the illusion of vast playgrounds and open spaces. Excitebots focuses a lot on blurring effects to create a sense of speed; these are thankfully well-executed. The frequent in-race terrain morphing is impressive, and the same goes for the other environmental effects, such as water splashing behind the cars.

My only issue is that I didn’t see I huge improvement over the game’s predecessor Excite Truck. Almost three years have passed since them, which arguably could have given the time for a bigger boost in the graphical department. Still, the game looks fine as it is.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

SOUND
This is by far the game’s weakest point. The tunes are nothing but generic metal riffs, which could have worked if anything here was as catchy as anything from the F-Zero series. In fact, it sounds like the soundtrack was aiming for a F-Zero vibe, but it ends up feeling second-rate. The same was more or less true with Excite Truck, but that game allowed custom soundtracks via SD card support. That feature was surprisingly excised from Excitebots despite both games sharing similar engines and presentation. Such an option would have made the audio much more bearable. As it is, I often found myself playing with the sound all the way down while my own music was playing in the background.

On the bright side, the sound effects are very effective. The car crashes sound violent enough, while you will hear the ruffling of leaves whenever you pass near a tree. Unfortunately, none of this can make up for the ear-bleeding induced by the music.

Sound Rating: Bad

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
The game sometimes feel as if the developers tried to cram everything they could come up with into the same game, but there is definitely a method to the mayhem. First of all, races are not won on positioning, but on the number of stars you were awarded during the race. Of course, there is a pretty substantial star bonus if you finish first, so there’s still a pretty big incentive to try to be ahead of the pack. However, stars also serve as the in-game currency which is needed to unlock new stuff, so it is up to each player to find his own balance between racing and performing tricks.

Stars can be earned in many ways, but these can be separated in two categories: stunts and tasks. Stunts are pretty self-explanatory, and consist of doing things which could usually crash your vehicle, such as spinning while airborne, jumping long distances, crashing your opponent, drifting or going through loops. Tasks are things which you will be asked to perform for star bonuses. These include things like catching ingredients to make a sandwich, throwing pies at a clown’s face, ramming a football or a baseball or playing the tambourine. Successfully pulling these off are great ways to get stars faster, and everything blends together effortlessly to create a weird, frantic but extremely fun experience. The game gives you so much to do in a single race that you need to be attentive at all time. It makes the races both stimulating and engrossing.

The controls are quite simple, whether you are using the Wii Wheel or the remote by itself. The buttons layout feels natural, and only the gas, brake, turbo and items have been mapped to the controller. The rest is accomplished by moving the remote. For example, you may tilt your controller backward to extend your airtime or forward to land faster. Tilting your vehicle will help it land properly on the road, which in turn gives you a speed boost. Steering is entirely motion controlled, and while the car might feel like it floats at times, it still feels good because you spend about half of the races in the air. It is all easy to memorize and the game rarely register the wrong motion, resulting in very responsive controls.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

REPLAYABILITY
The single player mode offers lengthy gameplay, but the online multiplayer mode really puts it over the top. Despite never having been a huge fan of online multiplayer, I have been spending a lot of time racing complete strangers. The possibility of gambling on yourself when competing online gives an extra incentive as the stars you pile up can help you unlock more cars and paint jobs. The amount of things to do here is pretty mind-numbing for a racing game. It’s a great game by yourself, but it shines when played against other human beings. It has a lot of wackiness but it’s also very accessible and easy to pick up and play, which will probably make it a party mainstay for a while. There are also ten mini-games included here, and while they are very enjoyable, they don’t offer as much game time as the other modes.

Replayability Rating: Good

BALANCE
This is a great all-ages game which is just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids. Of course, the challenge is on the easy side of the spectrum mostly to keep things fun for younger gamers, and there are only two courses or so which may present some difficulty once you reach the Super Excite class. Excitebots is undeniably fun, but it is not a game you will play for the satisfaction of beating the odds.

Balance Rating: Decent

ORIGINALITY
Of course, it does vaguely look like Excite Truck because of the engine and the presentation. The menus are similar; some of the real-life locations used as basis for the tracks were used in the previous games and your car can still jump and spin. That’s it. The rest of the game is unlike any racing game I have seen before. The races are crazy and can include anything from crashing into bowling pins to throwing pies in a clown’s face. There are multiple objects which can affect your course, from floating bars to take you upward to items that will actually morph your vehicle into a different form. Excitebots has surprised me a lot, and more than once I have found myself thinking, “What’s going on now?” The best part is that it’s not silly for the sake of being silly. It all actually mesh together to create a fun and fast-paced experience. My only gripe is the poker racing mode, which is feels like déjà vu if you have played the aforementioned Arctic Stud Poker Run, but it’s hard to say if Monster Games really took inspiration from this little known game or if it’s a case of “great minds think alike”.

Originality Rating: Amazing

ADDICTIVENESS
The main single player mode is good enough on its own, and the varied gameplay is more than enough to have anybody come back to this game regularly. Unlocking bots and paint jobs does get frustrating from time to time when you fail to get that elusive “S” ranking on Super Excite difficulty, which inevitably leads to tedious repetitions, but the relatively mild difficulty keeps these situations from occurring too often. The unpredictability of each race also helps keep things fresh.

The bonus mini-games such as the poker races are fun distractions, but they still bow down to the greatness of the online multiplayer mode. The frantic pace of the races is highly addictive, and I can safely say that the game offers the best online experience on the Wii this side of Mario Kart. This is what really kept me playing once I had sampled every track and mini-game on the disk.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

APPEAL FACTOR
Racing games by themselves are usually very mainstream, but there are so many of them that a game has to have its own flavour in order to be successful. While Excite Truck was fun, it did look a little bit generic. Excitebots on the other hand is literally bursting with personality. The animal cars gimmick seems to be aimed at pleasing kids, but the game is so manic and has so much to offer that it will also satisfy adults who want a lot of content for their hard-earned money. In that sense, this game is the easy pick over pretty much any racing game to be released on the Wii since the console’s launch. I thought that Mario Kart Wii would always be the definitive appealing, fun for the whole family title of choice, but Excitebots really is giving it a run for its money.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

MISCELLANEOUS
The online multiplayer component would still be fun if it was nothing but you racing strangers. However, the game gives you the possibility to bet on yourself using stars you accumulated playing the different modes, which can then be used to buy various items such as more cars and paint jobs. It adds a little spice to the races, which would still be a blast without it. It’s like putting whipped cream on a cake that was already covered with chocolate fudge. It doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

One thing that I feel was a let down was the lack of support for custom soundtracks using the Wii’s SD card slot. It’s a shame to see this element missing when it was one of the little things that made me appreciate Excite Truck that much more. I don’t know why the decision was made to excise that option from Excitebots, especially when it is the only thing which the former does better than the latter. Excitebots is still spectacularly better than its predecessor, but that little addition would have made the whole package even closer to perfection.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

THE RATINGS:
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Bad
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Good
Balance: Decent
Originality: Amazing
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal: Great
Miscellaneous: Great

Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Excitebots brilliantly builds on the foundations of its spiritual predecessor, but ends up with a flavour of its own because it is jam-packed with crazy stuff to do. Some of the things you will do while racing probably don’t make much sense when taken on their own, but the entire package is pure fun. It is easily the most refreshing game I have played in 2009. Only time will tell if it can overtake Mario Kart Wii as the best racer on its system, as the game as yet to prove its lasting appeal. This game is easily recommended for anybody who owns a Wii.