The problem with Excite Truck is that it looks like it can be played by anyone, when in reality your average Joe will be in a constant battle to keep their truck under control. Give someone the Wii-mote and tell them to tilt it to steer their on-screen truck and they'll be waving their arms around like a mad person, which isn't really the best way to play Nintendo's latest racer. What we have here is an altogether more delicate control scheme wrapped up in a game that looks anything but.
Considering Excite Truck hit US Wiis way back in December 2006, there's a high chance that you'll think it was the runt of the launch software litter, but that's not true. If anything, Excite Truck is one of the best games available for the Wii, packing the kind of insane arcade action that isn't seen too often these days. It's by no means a classic and suffers more than a little due to a fairly slim selection of game modes, but it's strangely addictive and proves that certain racing games will work with tilt controls.
Excite Truck is such a simple game that it really does feel like a blast from the past. You pick one of a handful of trucks (although quite frankly, many are more like cars than trucks) and then compete in races on off-road courses in order to achieve stars. Winning each race is actually not the be all and end all in Excite Truck, as a win only rewards you with a small percentage of the stars you need to move on to the next race.
Stars are awarded for performing a number of different moves and achieving certain things during a race. Most of these are tied into the game's turbo system, which propels your truck to insane speeds. This boost is freely available to use by pressing the d-pad, but will only function if cool enough. If you over use it within a short period of time it'll take even longer than usual to recharge - unless you're driving through some nice cooling water.
The turbo jump is the move that you'll use most often as it gives your truck that extra boost into jumps, enabling you to get some big air, perform spins or glide through floating rings. These moves all earn you stars, with the better the move the more stars you'll earn. So, a 720 degree spin will obviously earn you more stars than a 360 degree spin, while flying through all the floating rings will earn more stars than if you just manage to hit two of them. What's more, on the landing from these jumps, a successful four-wheel plant will give you another boost.
Adding another layer to the gameplay is the ability to chain turbo jumps. By tilting the Wii-mote forwards and back you're able to control how long your truck stays airborne (within a limit). So once you've mastered a track you're able to land right on the next ramp, turbo off, get some big air, land again, turbo off the ramp almost instantly, and so on and so forth. Add in some spins during your airtime and you'll be laughing.
Adding to the fun are two power-ups that often litter the tracks. One causes the track to deform quite dramatically in front of you, either raising or lowering the land. If you time it right - and get a bit lucky - all the other trucks will be sent flying into the air as you run over the power-up, giving you a nice advantage. The other power-up gives you a limited spell of invincibility and full-on turbo charge, meaning you can plough through trees and other cars. It also lets you earn points for tree runs (passing close to a series of trees) without the risk of crashing.
And that risk of crashing is pretty high. For the most part the collision detection feels great, but at times you'll wonder just why a slight brush with a tree brought your truck to a crashing standstill. After all, these trucks can withstand plummeting to earth after soaring high in the sky and can move at near supersonic speeds, but a brush with a tree causes devastation. The fact that controls are still pretty loose, even with slight tilting, doesn't help. The tilting works, but it's still hard to see how it'd translate to a game that required more precision.
The whole package also feels rather bare bones. You can work through two challenge modes, tackle a checkpoint mode and battle a friend (only one friend mind), and that's your lot. Sure, there are pseudo achievements to work towards, cars to unlock, high scores to go for and S Ranks to achieve, but without any online functionality, for the most part you'll only be competing against yourself. Online play should have bee included, with online scoreboards an absolute minimum, and its complete absence is more than noticeable.
Early Wii titles have come under a fair amount of criticism for their less than spectacular visuals, which in some cases haven't even surpassed what the GameCube was capable of, but Excite Truck looks very nice. The tracks do occasionally look like something a random track generator would spew out, but they're bright, large and feature a nice long draw distance. The sense of speed is also pretty phenomenal, helped by the almost rock solid frame rate.
The big letdown is the audio. The included music is dire and should be muted straight away. Some basic custom soundtrack support is included though, so dust off that SD memory card and load it up with your favourite high-octane racing tunes. It's hard to get across just how much of a difference good music makes to the whole experience, making the included tracks rather baffling choices.
Excite Truck feels like it could have used a few extra months of polish. A more involving main mode of play and online support would have made the world of difference, but it's still an entertaining game. The likes of Wave Race 64 and 1080 were among the best arcade-style racers around; while Excite Truck doesn't reach the levels of hidden depth that those titles had in spades, it could well remain the best racer on the system for quite some time.