Most people probably don’t think of the Excite-vehicle franchise as one of Nintendo’s most prominent, but at 25 years old, Excitebike precedes Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Nintendo released Excitebike 64 in 2000, and six years later, spiritual successor Excite Truck emerged as a Wii launch title. Excite Truck got decent reviews and was a fun game, but failed to make a lasting impression on most Wii owners. Now Excitebots: Trick Racing takes the franchise to a new level, abandoning more traditional vehicles for transforming, stunt-performing robots. While some aspects of Excitebots may feel a bit recycled from its predecessor, there is definitely enough new content to keep gamers interested and set it apart from Excite Truck.
At first glance, Excitebots appears to be set up like a typical Wii racing game: groups of races organized by difficulty, with increasingly challenging levels unlocking as you play. Most of your time will likely be spent on Excite Races, where you’ll earn stars by performing tricks and finishing before your opponents. Unlike most racing games, where the object is to simply finish in first place, Excitebots determines the winner by the number of stars collected. Stars are earned by performing tricks and stunts, drifting, crashing, and hitting other bots, to name just a few techniques. Of course, that doesn’t mean crossing that finish line before the other racers isn’t important, since the speediest robot gets plenty of bonus stars, which go a long way towards determining the final score.
If you get bored with straight-up racing, Excitebots has some unique gameplay modes that help set it apart from typical racing games. The Poker Race lets you earn stars by collecting cards through five laps and making the best poker hands you can. This is easier said than done, as you’ll still be trying to outrun opponents and avoid obstacles, and there’s more strategy involved in Poker Races than typical Excite Races. Additionally, the mini-game selection is surprisingly fun, and not just an afterthought like in some Wii titles. Mini-games allow you to enjoy all of the quirkier points of the Excite Races, such as hitting baseballs, scoring touchdowns, knocking down bowling pins, or throwing darts. Since every race and mini-game grades you based on the number of stars you collect, there is a lot of incentive to go back and improve your score, especially since you can use those stars to buy new vehicles.
When it comes to controls, Excitebots keeps it simple: turn the Wii remote on its side, and you’re good to go. The Wii wheel accessory, which originally came out alongside Mario Kart, is also compatible with this game, and actually works better with Excitebots than it does with Mario Kart. The controls can be wacky, but never feel gimmicky, which is definitely a good thing. As expected, you’ll use the remote to simulate a steering wheel, although your racing robot will also be able to do things like throw darts, spin around bars, and perform tricks while high in the air. The controls have been improved since Excite Truck, and are pretty tight, although there are a few exceptions. Walking on robot legs is my main complaint, control-wise, because it should be cool to stomp through trees at high speeds. Instead, having to tilt the remote back and forth quickly makes it very difficult to steer, and I often found myself crashing into walls or falling off cliffs while doing the robot walk.
Excitebots features a number of tracks from different locations around the world. Levels are well-designed and fun to navigate, with strategically placed bars, jumps, and other variables that ensure a zany, enjoyable race. I did notice that the locations were repeated quite a bit, making the game feel repetitive at times. There are a few vehicles to choose from at the start of the game and more to be unlocked as stars are earned, but I wish there had been more customization than just the color of each Excitebot. However, that’s a minor complaint, and I did so well with my yellow ladybug robot that I didn’t even feel the need to spend my stars on other racers.
Technically speaking, Excitebots doesn’t do a lot to stand out. The game is not bad-looking, but many areas seem like they were taken straight from Excite Truck. Unlike that game, which allowed gamers to import custom soundtracks, Excitebots doesn’t have that feature, and the soundtrack is pretty forgettable. However, these faults are easier to overlook with the enjoyable gameplay, and most of the time you’ll be speeding through the levels so fast that you won’t even have time to stop and look around.
Excitebots supports both local and online multiplayer, but unlike Mario Kart, only two people can play together on the same system. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, since Excite Truck was also a two-player game, but I feel like Excitebots had the potential to be a great group game. Up to six people can race together online, but as you might expect from Nintendo, that’s got some flaws as well. Racing online with friends, provided you have exchanged the necessary friends codes, is fine, but trying to get into a public race can take way too long. Once you do get into a race, everything works fine, but getting there is the problem. One of the advantages to online racing is that you have the opportunity to make a lot of stars really fast by betting on whether or not you’ll win. Sure, you can earn those stars offline as well, but it will take a lot longer to do so.
Excitebots: Trick Racing may not be the most innovative racing game ever made, but it’s zany, fun, and something I would go back to. Unlike many Wii games, Excitebots has a ton of replay value, and really makes good use of the system’s motion-sensitive controls. Sometimes, when you’re rotating your arms to make it over that red bar, or throwing a pie at a clown’s face, it almost seems a little too silly, but it never stops being entertaining. I approached this game with cautious optimism, and instead of being disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much fun I had. For those complaining about a lack of Wii games worth playing, grab a friend and go pick this up.