David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-06-03 00:02:50
Excitebots: Trick Racing - Rank A
It's as if Nintendo is ashamed of Excitebots: Trick Racing. All of their marketing dollars are pouring into Punch-Out!! (a game that would've sold itself anyway), with zero promotion for Excitebots. Consequently, its sales are at a minuscule trickle, but I'm here to extol it as my favorite Wii game since Super Mario Galaxy, and as one of my favorite racing games on any system, past or present. It drives me nuts that garbageware like Wii Play and Wii Fit have sold in excess of FORTY MILLION units, and that a quality title finally comes along and barely manages to squeak out 13,000 in its launch window. Admittedly, even if Nintendo were to push it, Excitebots would be a tough sell. It doesn't have much in the way of extrovert personality. It looks like a Mario Kart clone with robotic insects and critters instead of lovable mascots. However, closer examination reveals fresh and unique game mechanics that supersede the tired rehashes we've been playing since the SNES.
Excitebots is deliciously absurd, and revolves around pulling off tricks and stunts while racing at breakneck speeds. Winners are determined by the total number of stars earned, not by final placement. Sure, finishing in first place grants you more stars than coming in second, but there are plenty of opportunities to rack up serious star counts along the way. Every jump is a chance to gain stars for Air Time and Spins. Each turn yields Drifting stars. Shortcuts through dangerously narrow paths yield Tree Run stars. Gymnast bars can be clamped onto with a robotic arm and offer stars for well timed back flips and giant swings. And littered throughout every course, are little mini-games. Knock over bowling pins or hit a soccer ball into a net, and you'll see your star count explode. Power ups can give you fishing poles and baseball bats with which to catch fish or hit home runs for stars. It might all sound silly (and it is), but the overall experience is tensely thrilling. Once you learn the ins and outs of each race track, you'll be stringing together outrageous series of tricks - Tony Hawking your way through the courses, all while careening along at blazing velocities. There's never been a racing game quite like Excitebots.
Your choice of bot is also a strategic commitment. Don't expect to pull off complex aerial maneuvers if you take a heavier racer like the Centipede. Or should you select the lightweight Bat, deep and grinding power slides or smashing into fellow racers won't be as successful. Wide bots are poor at Tree Runs, but they might pack better turbo for chaining jump boosts. Each course features multiple routes and a constant choice of trick attempts. As you become accustomed to the tracks and racers, you'll be able to better explore the combinations that maximize your star output. This subtle complexity is a welcome advancement over the traditional inconsequence of choosing between light and zippy, balanced, or sluggish and powerful racers.
Excitebots is also one of the very few games to properly utilize the Wii motion controls. Let's face it; the Wii is TERRIBLE at interpreting fine movements. Excitebots only demands simple, grand gestures such as tilting, shaking, swinging, or pushing. Thus, you are spared the frustration of misinterpreted motions; they actually work every time. In an inspired decision, Excitebots does not offer a Nunchuk analog control scheme. Unlike Mario Kart Wii, thrashing the controller around in the air like a buffoon is mandatory. The racing and the tricks are specifically designed around the motion controls, and embracing the goofiness of waving the controller around is key to enjoying this game. In particular, I highly recommend the Wii Wheel as it greatly contributes to this intuitively childlike joy.
I've beaten the Wii's asinine "Friend Code" system and lack of voice chat to death, and aside from these issues, the online mode functions serviceably with a minimum of lag. To be honest, Nintendo's seeming hatred of online functionality is so pervasive that I'm grateful just to have the option.
The only minor gripes I have about this game are the horribly grating music, and the grinding required to unlock features (new bots and even color schemes cost thousands of stars).
Excitebots: Trick Racing is that very thing we all claim to desire - an innovative new gaming experience. Yet, it's franchises reiterated ad naseum, like Mario Kart, that we end up supporting in the millions. Excitebots is the freshest racer to come along in many years, and Wii owners would be remiss in ignoring it.
[Note: the link for the game below allows you to choose between the game only, or the package with the Wii Wheel for $10 more. I do recommend the Wheel, and the second link is to purchase additional Wheels separately.]