2006-11-30

Excite Truck (Wii)

Excite Truck is one of Wii's big launch titles, one of several racers to hit shelves on launch day. The others are GT Pro Series, Need for Speed: Carbon, and Monster 4x4. GT Pro and NfS both strive for realism; Excite Truck and Monster both go for a more cartoony style.

Excite Truck throws realism right out the window, in fact, going for more of a Burnout-style high-flying, big-smashing, star-collecting racer. Like burnout, nearly everything you do earns you from one to five stars - drifts, air, tree runs (almost, but not quite, hitting trees), truck smashes (hitting your competitors), and so on. While you get a bonus for placing well in the race, what actually determines your success in single-player, or the winner in multi-player, is your star count.

The races take place in various fictional locations in various real countries. The single-player game is organized into 4 ranks (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum), each with 4-5 races. Each race, your number of stars grants you a rating of D to S, D being worst, A being second best, and S being best. If you complete all races in a rank with a B or better, you gain access to the next rank. If you complete all races in all ranks with an S rating, you gain access to the "Super Excite" difficulty. At seemingly random intervals you gain new vehicles, and if you get enough wins or enough S ratings with a particular vehicle, you gain a new paint job for that vehicle.

There are 19 tracks and 10 trucks in total, all of them available for single- and multi-player. There is also a tutorial mode which does a good job of walking you through all of the various tricks you can perform in order to get the most stars possible.

The single-player game is fun, but brief. I would have liked to see more tracks, more ranks, and more vehicles. But, all in all, it's definitely a good racer if you liked the Burnout series and are looking for a first racer to try on the Wii platform. The controls are solid, as is the gameplay - the only thing really lacking is in depth and in multiplayer.

Multiplayer is limited to two human players. That's it. No CPU opponents, no 3 or 4 player races. Just you and one opponent, trying to get the most stars. If you win 1st place, you don't get the 50-star bonus you'd get in singleplayer; you get a 15-star bonus, plus one star per second until your opponent crosses the finish line. This can get very frustrating when racing a less-skilled player, because you'll find they win the majority of the time. I'm serious. You'll be racing through the whole level, hitting every jump and every ring, doing air spins like there's no tomorrow, you beat them soundly, there's even a scare at the end that they might be disqualified completely for being 30 seconds behind you. Then they cross the finish with 2 seconds to go, after recovering from the 90th crash into a tree, and - what's this? They've won.

Why? Well, if you examine the scores at the end, a beginning player will tend to get a lot of drifts, because they're overcompensating their steering. This leads into getting a lot of tree runs, because they're often flailing wildly off the track. Then, of course, they hit a tree - and every crash earns you another star. Some balancing of this system is sorely needed.

Multiplayer is still a blast, however, and I've played in groups of half a dozen all waiting patiently to play the winner. It's highly addictive, and it's a lot of fun. I'm not dissappointed at all by the title - I'm just anxiously awaiting an ET2 with more tracks, more trucks, a more balanced point system, and a drastically improved multiplayer - at the very least, 2-4 player multiplayer, with the game filling out the 6-racer lineup with CPU opponents. I don't even need online play, but it would certainly be a nice touch.

The game's soundtrack is a tiring generic rock lineup, reminiscent of the SNES' Rock 'n' Roll Racing (another great game, BTW, and one I hope to see on VC soon). Luckily, if you've got an SD card, you can fill it up with MP3s, pop it in the Wii, and replace the soundtrack with those. I'm really hoping more games add a similar feature, and wishing Nintendo would go ahead and add a Music Channel to the Wii allowing you to play music from an SD card, MP3 CD, or standard audio CD, with visualisations. Doesn't seem like too much to ask.

All in all, Excite Truck is a solid title, particularly for anyone looking for a Burnout-esque racer on Wii.
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