I'd rather be pleasantly surprised by an unknown game of little pedigree, than disappointed by one that promised more than it could deliver. It's an idea that can be applied to most situations. Blind Dates, for example, are the very definition of such a theory. Set your expectations to low, and you won't be disappointed when it turns out your date enjoys clog dancing and rambling. Such is the case with Excite Truck. When it was announced at E3, many observers could do little more than exhibit a wearisome shrug of indifference. But, once people got their hands on the game, they soon realised it had a lot to offer, with the potential to equal the delights of previously low-key Nintendo launch titles such as Wave Race 64.
Excite Truck is a distant cousin to Excitebike 64 - the N64 title developed by former second party developer Left Field Productions, which was itself, a modern adaptation of the classic Excitebike from the NES era. Despite the distant lineage the influences can certainly be identified. Excitebike 64, and Excitebike before it, took the basic premise that making really big jumps on bikes equalled really big fun. Excite Truck does the same, except with Trucks. It's none-too-complicated and, much like many early Wii titles, neither are the controls.
Like Sonic and the Secret Rings, Excite Truck uses the Wii Remote alone with no nunchuk attachment required. You hold the remote horizontally, tilting left or right to steer and forward or back to level out your landings. The '1' and '2' buttons account for acceleration and braking, with the D-pad used to activate the all-important boost. As control systems go you can see why Nintendo sought to revive the franchise on Wii. Fans of the original Excitebike titles will immediately see the sense in using the remote's tilt abilities to perform inch perfect landings, and the system is very easy to pick up.
'Excite Truck is insanely fast, so fast in fact that comparisons to the Burnout series aren't completely out of place.'
One area where Excite Truck certainly diverges from its cousins is in speed. Excite Truck is insanely fast, so fast in fact that comparisons to the Burnout series aren't completely out of place. Boosting, which forms an integral part of the gameplay, results in a mind-bending fish-eye effect that really accentuates the sense of speed, and how you use your boost is vitally important. Strewn around every track are power-ups, signified with a large exclamation mark, which trigger a variety of terrain altering events. Some trigger land slides, which you can use to knock opponents off the road, but the great majority cause the land in font of you to morph into giant ramps that you can boost off of to 'catch air' and earn stars. Nailing your landing also rewards you with a massive boost, making landings an important tool in maintaining your momentum.
The collection of stars forms the other key component of Excite Truck's gameplay. Borrowing heavily from other arcade titles, such as Burnout and OutRun, each race is not just a race to the finish, but a challenge to receive as high a grade as possible. Your grade depends upon the number of stars you are awarded in any given race. Stars are awarded for performing any number of moves, ranging from catching massive air to knocking opponents off the road and causing massive crashes. Your own crashes are rewarded too, and by tapping the '2' button you can earn a quick boost to get back on track and in contention.
Although the number of trucks and tracks are, as of yet, unknown, the early signs are certainly encouraging. Track design is very creative, with plenty of very neat touches including brilliant use of deforming terrain, and the trucks are well designed with a good sense of weight. The recent demo also included the Bowler Wildcat, which Top Gear fans will remember as the vehicle in which, Richard Hammond, claimed he was a "driving god". Visually, Excite Truck is very much on a par with other Wii launch titles we've already seen. It won't blow observers away, but will certainly please them with its good sense of style and brisk frame rate.
Overall, there's good reason to place Excite Truck at the higher end of your launch title wish list. It's a fun arcade racer with a great sense of speed, and it makes very good use of the Wii Remote in its gameplay. It may not re-write the arcade racer play book, but it certainly puts it to good use. It remains to be seen, however, whether it can string together the solid arcade elements into a game that will provide lasting satisfaction. For that, we'll just have to wait for the game to hit store shelves in December.