Excitebots: Trick Racing
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-06-06 Wii Racing E (Everyone) Monster Games / Nintendo

What began with Excite Trucks on the Wii, a simple arcade racer that concentrated on big air and a morphing landscape continues with Excitebots: Trick Racing, a title that excels at almost everything it offers.

Excitebots: Trick Racing is another in the line of quick pick-up-and-play arcade racers that throw people directly into the action without so much as a storyline to set them into motion. The Excitebots themselves are racing machines that come in the form of various animals, like hummingbirds, praying mantises, ladybugs, bats, frogs and so on.

Each Excitebot has its own set of pros and cons, stats for handling, grip and so on, and are customizable in terms of color. The game's Excite Race mode is where you'll be spending the majority of your time, and is a cup based career mode with varying difficulty levels associated with each cup.

With the first cup being reserved solely for the game's training runs, players will get a feel for basically everything the game has to offer within the first few minutes. While holding the Wii Remote horizontally (Wii Wheel or not), 2 controls acceleration, and B controls your Turbo Bar. The turbo bar represents your Bot's heat level, and will continually empty so long as you are not utilizing your turbo boost. Too much turbo can eventually lead to your Bot overheating, allowing your opponents to quickly pass you by.

Jumps occur automatically, but can be made more spectacular by quickly tapping on the B button as you launch off of a ramp or cliff, giving you more speed and altitude throughout the jump, thereby allowing you to travel further before landing.

As with Excite Trucks, Excitebots concentrates on an ever-changing landscape, which bends and transforms after you pick up bonus blocks spread throughout the track. Most of these blocks cause a massive ramp to develop on the track in front of you, sending your Bot flying high into the air, where tricks can be performed.

In this is the game's one main flaw, as achieving these airborne tricks is easier said than done. Supposedly, a simple press on the directional pad and a left or right tilt of the Wii Wheel will cause your Bot to do 360 or 720 degree spins in the air, but the responsiveness is lacking, making it easier to forgo attempting these tricks altogether.

Even though performing such tricks does grant you more stars (the game's currency, with your earning a certain number of stars being required before passing each race), when you find yourself flailing around in the air, randomly hitting buttons and swinging the Wii Wheel or Remote to and fro, instead of concentrating on where you are going to land, the whole mechanic becomes more burdensome than anything else.

Other in-race elements perform better, however. Items like the Red Bar or the Yellow Bar take advantage of each Bot's ability to form a tail, by forcing them to latch on and spin for either ten rotations, or until you decide to fling the Wii Wheel forward to set yourself free. The Red Bar tends to offer a speed and jump boost, while the Yellow Wheel commonly opens up a new shortcut for you.

Various mini-games are also scattered throughout each race track, with most coming in a sports theme. As examples, after hitting random bonus blocks, a soccer or football may appear on the screen, and by driving into it with your Bot, you can send the ball either flying into a net or through the goal posts that are positioned nearby on the track. There is also a baseball bat that attaches itself to your Bot's tail, turning you into the next batter up, or an arrow that turns you into an archer, aiming at a faraway target.

While this may all seem like a complex system, after mastering the basics, the only variety thereafter comes from the game's changing the order in which these elements appear on each track. That is, on some tracks the Red Bar may be located towards the beginning of the lap, while in others it may be the final element that launches you over the start/finish line. Likewise, there are only so many sports mini-games available throughout the title, so once you've played the same location multiple times, the freshness of the whole process diminishes.

However, this isn't to say that the game is any less fun because of a lack of real depth; far from it, actually. Each track is filled with enough shortcuts, jumps, and power-ups to allow you to race each particular event multiple times without having traveled every route, and with so many unlockables available from the main menu (new bots, paint jobs and so on), there is still a load of incentive to keep playing, just to get that next batch of stars to buy your next prize.

Furthermore, the game's Poker Race mode allows for another batch of limitless replayability by exchanging the speed from the career races for quick-calculations as each Bot is assigned a hand of four regular playing cards, and is required to make the best hand of five cards possible by picking up cards placed at set intervals on each track.

Aiding you on your journey to card shark supremacy is the display at the top of the screen that gives you a heads up on each of the cards in the next set you are approaching, so that you can plan ahead as to which card you wish to pick up for your hand. Just deciding on a card is only half of the battle, however, as your opponents may need the same card. If they get to it first, you're plain out of luck, and can either wait for a new (read: different) card to regenerate on the same spot, or continue on to the next set of five.

As you might expect, a pair is worth far less than three of a kind, while a flush or full house is more valuable still. Also, Poker Races contain both a time limit and a lap limit, forcing you to progress at a fairly good clip, and therefore calculate possible hands even faster, if you wish to have any chance of finishing in first place (which nets you bonus stars).

No matter which mode you choose, Excitebots does a stellar job of conveying speed to the player. The landscapes around you blur, your controller rumbles, and the bots around you scurry by in a frenzied panic, as everyone tries to make it to the finish line first.

This speed is accompanied by a fantastic graphical design that is over-the-top to say the least. Massive tornadoes dot the desert landscapes, while lush jungles and overgrowth must be conquered in tropical levels, only to find yourself emerging from the rainforest into the path of a gigantic rock monkey that wants to swat you out of the sky like a bug.

The only real aspect that becomes a letdown on the technical side of the game is the soundtrack, which is unfortunately quite forgetful. While the sound effects themselves are nicely done, and are a loud mix of engine revs and mechanical whirls, the music that plays throughout the title is quite lackluster, at best.

Not to fear, though, as the game offers very little time for such reflections, as you must diligently concentrate on the task at hand, which is normally to leave everyone around you in the dust, whether AI or otherwise. Thanks to the title's impressive multiplayer component, up to six real life players can race online at once, in a system that is just as much fun to watch as it is to actually participate.

All in all, for what Excitebots: Trick Racing offers: an easy, pick-up-and-play arcade racer with large enough tracks to warrant a second or even third playthrough, its few flaws (those being a lack of real depth or adequate sound track) can be mostly overlooked. If you have a Wii, and are feeling the need for speed, Excitebots is a nice way to go.

Special thanks to Allison Guillen and Nintendo for providing a copy of this title.