Publisher: Nintendo of America
Developer: Monster Games
Release Date: April 20, 2009
Nintendo has developed and published a number of racing games during its years in the video game market, but none is as interesting as the titles that fall under the Excite series. The first game was ExciteBike for the original NES, and it was noted for its great representation of motocross racing at the time as well as its track editor, which was a first for console gaming. Despite the great reception for the launch title, the series was dormant until the Nintendo 64, with the release of ExciteBike 64. The game made up for its omission of track editing with the implementation of a trick system, blazing fast speeds and great track design. After skipping the GameCube, the series launched the Nintendo Wii with ExciteTrucks. The game abandoned motorbikes in favor of off-road trucks, but everything else from the previous game returned with major tweaks. The speed was even faster, and the tricks were replaced with jumps to gave players huge air and breathtaking landscapes to look at during their big jumps. A little over two years after that title launched, Monster Games and Nintendo of America take the series in a different direction again with ExciteBots: Trick Racing. The vehicles have been replaced with racing robots, and the addition of mini-objectives takes the game to a whole new level of oddity. Despite this, the game retains one thing that the series has had since its inception: fun.
ExciteBots features several different modes, each one innovating the series and embracing the title's zaniness. Excite Race is the first mode you come across, and until you complete the first available cup, it's the only mode you'll see. There are several different cups in this mode, each consisting of at least four race tracks against five other opponents. After you choose your vehicle, a mechanized representation of an animal or insect, you are presented with a track and objective. This is where the game starts to deviate from other racing titles. The objective isn't to finish first but to reach the minimum amount of stars listed to get the required grade and move on to the next track.
Mimicking the kudos system seen in the Project Gotham Racing series, you are presented with stars for everything you do. Finishing first will yield a decent amount of stars, but everything else you get to do in the race will help you reach the objective. Passing by opponents, drifting, crashing into opponents and solid objects all give you stars. The tasks that earn you plenty of stars, though, are the ones you never find in racing games. Raising pieces of land so you can do a turbo jump from it and do airborne tricks will net you some nice star totals. Swinging off bars placed on the track will also net you a fair amount of stars. Using weapons will do the same thing, and so will star pick-ups on the track. The most unusual, however, would be the sports-themed ones. Depending on the track and whether or not you pick up the right object, you'll be asked to do things like kick a field goal, hit the bull's-eye on a dart board, make a soccer goal, or strike some bowling pins. These side objectives are unusual and make the racing seem more like a trick competition than anything else, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Once you finish your first cup in Excite Race mode, the game will open up the rest of the game modes. The mini-games let you play with all of the activities found during the races in smaller, more secluded courses. Just like the races, the objective is to score big on stars, though that's easier said than done with certain activities. There are 10 of these mini-games, ranging from gliding to tightrope walking on musical lines to walking on the robot's hind legs for extra speed runs. There's also Poker Race mode, which tasks you with meeting or exceeding star quotas before moving on to the next level. The twist here is that you want to pick up cards in order to make good hands. The better the hand, the more stars earned in the number of laps you're given for the race.
After realizing that ExciteBots is one of the more unusual race games any system has seen in a while, you'll quickly determine that it's tons of fun. With first place not being the most important thing in the race, you'll spend most of your time trying to get creative in getting your stars. You can choose to go through one race doing nothing but tricks, while another lap can be spent crashing into as many opponents as possible. The presence of the side activities in races gives you something else to look forward to while you speed along, and it can be a great distraction if you're already far ahead of or far behind the pack. Even the Poker Races and mini-games turn out to be fun activities that add rather than detract from the overall package. The variation in races gives the title some identity, since it destroys expectations of how a racing title should behave. Because of this, people who aren't really great at racing games can still have fun with this title and will want to play it over and over again.
If there's one thing that the game doesn't lack, it's depth. Aside from the game's offline and online modes, there's a very wide range of things to unlock here, and the methodology of unlocking these things is varied enough that you'll try just about everything in order to get it all. Finishing with S rankings on Excite Race mode gets you Super Excite mode, a much harder version of the original races with completely different side objectives. Finishing that with all S rankings lets you tackle you mirrored versions of the original tracks. Ranking up your lifetime stats and stars gets you access to custom costumes for your bots and icons for your gamer card. Extra bots are also obtained with this method, each with its own set of costumes to unlock. Even something as simple as playing with the same bot a certain number of times gets you virtual statues of the bot and special paint jobs for them. With all of this to do, it's good to see a racing game let players do something beyond just unlocking tracks.
Multiplayer is also pretty deep and engaging, but a few missing features could have made ExciteBots the definitive Wii racing title in this respect, especially when going online. Like ExciteTrucks, the game only features two-player split-screen play on both the Excite Races and Poker Races modes. The split is handled well, and you will go up against AI players, but the lack of four-player gameplay like Mario Kart Wii does hurt the title.
Online gameplay is a bit more robust, though. You can enter into matches against friend or strangers for six-player Excite Races or Poker Races. After selecting your bot and a track is voted on, you can place a bet on the number of stars you wager for the race. Meeting the quota nets you the selected bonus, while failing to meet it costs you the allotted stars. The game runs lag-free no matter what's happening, making for a fun and painless experience online when compared to some other Wii online titles. The only gripe in this area is the lack of voice support. This was an acceptable shortcoming before, but with the Wii Speak device already out for several months, it's a bit disappointing to see a first-party title not support it, especially for a game that's bound to get players hollering and screaming while they play.
The controls start out simple but get very involved once the races begin. Using the Wii Remote held sideways, the 2 button is your gas and the 1 button is your brake. Hitting up on the d-pad initiates a turbo boost, while tilting the remote left and right steers the vehicle. It follows the same scheme as other racing games and is very responsive, almost mimicking 1:1 movement with the vehicle. Like the rest of the game, things take a turn for the strange when you actually start to race and encounter the extra objectives. The red horizontal poles, for example, ask that you move the Wiimote back and forth in rhythm with your on-screen car in order to get the most momentum out of jump. Yellow bars ask that you push the remote forward at the right time in order to get the biggest boost, while doing spins out of jumps requires that you start turning the remote while holding down the turbo and brake buttons. Walking on your hind legs will ask you to tilt the Wiimote left and right to simulate the running done on-screen. Even when you are doing the off-the-wall actions, the controls remain solid and responsive. During the whole time that this title was in review, there was never an instance when the controls faltered enough to make a race impossible to win.
The graphics are well done, though those looking for some vast improvements over ExciteTrucks will be in for some disappointment. The vehicles are designed well and sport nice little details, such as guards over the headlights and visible joints everywhere. The environments are also very detailed and vibrantly colored. The particle effects look great and are everywhere anytime you pick up a power-up or crash into other bots. The whole game moves at a good 30fps and holds up well during turbo boosts. Running at 480p widescreen, you get a good sense of speed during all of the races, and at no time does the game feel sluggish. Again, this is great stuff, but for those that who have played ExciteTrucks, it all looks the same. In fact, if you replaced the bots with trucks in a screenshot, you'd think that this was the same game. Things like a frame rate bump or even more detail in the environments would have been nice, but for what you get, it's a good graphical package on the Wii.
The sound goes for something that is usually not seen in many Nintendo titles, and it is evidenced well in the music. Like ExciteTrucks, the game goes for hard rock instrumentals instead of the standard bouncy Nintendo fare as heard in Mario Kart Wii. There's nothing licensed here, and the stuff is pretty generic, but it can be a welcome departure for some players. The sound effects, however, follow the Nintendo standard thoroughly. The sounds of the turbo boosting and acceleration of the bots is exactly what you would find in other racing games. These effects are loud and pretty realistic, if you were to drive mechanized animal-shaped vehicles. Blasting this in Dolby Pro Logic II sounds great, especially hearing the engines of another car coming from behind you at full speed. The effects for the other elements maintain a cartoon-like vibe that one would expect from this type of racing game. There is something missing here that was available in the previous title, however. Unlike ExciteTrucks, there is no option to use your own custom soundtrack via SD card. While it isn't a huge deal, the fact that such a unique feature to the Wii is missing in this iteration is a bit disappointing.
There are many words that can describe ExciteBots: Trick Racing: exciting, fun, hilarious, odd, peculiar, weird and zany. By taking risks with what players usually expect out of a racing game, the developers have created a racing title that is pleasing to both die-hard fans of arcade racers and those Wii gamers who have very little past experience with the genre. The simple control scheme helps, as do the great graphics and sound, and a solid online mode that only lacks a few features. The only racing game that beats this title would be Nintendo's own Mario Kart Wii. If you consider yourself a gamer who loves to race or loves offbeat games done right, you owe it to yourself to pick up ExciteBots: Trick Racing. Any Wii gamer should be proud to have this title in his or her library.
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