To get an idea of how much better Excitebots: Trick Racing is than its predecessor, Excite Truck, think about them in terms of children's toys. Trucks are good, wholesome fun, but there's only so much an active imagination can do with them. On the other hand, transforming robot cars are creative and complex on a whole different level. So it is with Excitebots. Improving on Excite Truck's solid racing controls and sense of speed, Excitebots sprinkles in a dizzying array of wacky items, tricky stunts, and goofball challenges that make for hectic and hilarious races. Although the action can feel a bit helter-skelter at times and the controls aren't exactly pinpoint accurate, the game is usually forgiving enough to keep you barreling along merrily. With a bevy of new features, including six-player online races, Excitebots: Trick Racing is an exuberantly over-the-top racing game that's a lot of frantic, fanciful fun.
The animal bots are the stars of the show here. Frogs jostle with bats for control of the track, and ladybugs try to outpace grasshoppers. Each robo-creature has a few different attributes that indicate, for example, how long its turbo lasts or how well it grips around turns. The bots are fairly balanced, so though the turtle can easily pull off sweet drifts, the lightweight mouse can clear certain obstacles more quickly. This balancing is particularly welcome in online races, in which you'll see a wide array of bots lined up at the starting line. About half of the bots must be unlocked with the stars that you earn while racing, and each bot can be decked out in 11 different colors, plus an awesome but expensive special outfit (who doesn't want to turn their centipede into a dragon?). The bots are amusingly animated, and the way they flare out their tires/wings/appendages while soaring through the air gives them a quirky character that makes them all the more fun to pilot.
The racing controls are quite simple, and anyone who owns a Wii Wheel will already have them down pat. You tilt the remote to steer, hit the 1 button to brake (almost never), hold the 2 button to hit the gas (almost constantly), and tap the D pad or B button to activate turbo (beware of overheating!). The controls are well suited to the fast-paced, high-flying racing; they aren't so sensitive that you can always take the optimal line around turns, but they are responsive enough to make you feel in control as you rush along the track while trying to get as many stars as you can. Stars are more than currency in Excitebots; they determine the final standings of every race. Placing first earns you a hefty star bonus, so racing skills definitely count, but winning a close race or earning a high rank can be decided by whether or not you nailed that one trick. You'll have to race well and perform a good amount of stunts if you want to succeed in Excitebots, and trying to do both is hectic and engaging.
You can earn stars by driving stylishly and doing things such as drifting, getting massive air, bashing into your opponents, or navigating a tight, tree-lined run. You can also earn stars in a number of more exotic ways, and this is where Excitebots starts to get wacky (as if it wasn't already?). There are a wide variety of obstacles and challenges sprinkled liberally throughout each track. One obstacle featured in every race is the red horizontal bar. When you reach it, a claw emerges from your bot and grabs the bar, and you start flipping around the bar like a gymnast. You have to move the remote in a circular motion in time with your swinging car, and the more in sync you are, the faster you'll be on your way. This is actually one of the potentially frustrating parts of the game, because it's easy to get out of sync and spin really slowly. Fortunately, there is a prompt to help guide you, and once you get a feel for the motion you'll have no problem spinning speedily. Still, stopping to swing around is a weird halt in the race that, though frantic in its own right, doesn't quite jibe with the otherwise speedy action.
However, the horizontal red bar is just the tip of the bizarro iceberg. There are other bars for you to swing around, but these require you only to shove the remote forward when you want to release. Good releases earn you stars, but if you release awkwardly, you're destined to crash unless you can pull off a last-minute recovery (which also merits a star). One bar even launches you into the air to perform backflips and then sends you on your way. Question-mark boxes appear on the track fairly often, hiding a range of odd star-earning opportunities. Some merely deform the terrain ahead of you (like in Excite Trucks), whereas others unleash one-off challenges. These challenges may set up an item for you to run into (whack a soccer ball into a goal, knock over bowling pins), or they may give you tasks that requires you to press the A button in a timely fashion. These are particularly strange and include throwing a pie at a clown's face, hitting a flaming baseball with a bat, tapping out a tambourine rhythm, or casting a line into the water to catch a fish. It's a lot of fun to attempt these midrace minigames while pelting along at breakneck pace. They give Excitebots a uniquely exciting feel; between completing these minigames, performing stunts, and actually racing, you're always striving to do something and there's never a dull moment.
The granddaddy of wacky items is the wrench, which temporarily transforms your bot into a two-legged abomination (a spider running on only two legs?!). The gas button does not work in this state; rather, you have to twist the remote side-to-side to make your bot take speedy steps. While running, your bot can jog up steps, grind rails, kick opponents off of the track, and launch off of cliffs and take the form of a glider. Steering while twisting rhythmically can be tricky, but your bot is pretty much invincible, so you don't have to worry about crashing through trees that would otherwise stop you dead. Trees, cacti, and other impediments are scattered throughout the internationally flavored tracks, which will have you launching over icebreakers in Finland and speeding along the Great Wall in China. Each locale has a few different courses that vary in difficulty, but when you've seen them all you'll wish there were more available. The saturated color scheme fits the wacky aesthetic perfectly, and it's easy to spot obstacles even with the generous speed blur. It also suits the goofy minigames, which would look absurd in any other context.
And speaking of absurd, why not play a hand of poker while you're racing? In the separate mode Poker Race, it's all about forming the best poker hand that you can to earn stars and win. Poker tracks are much shorter and less cluttered, which is good because you'll need all of your brainpower to decide which card you want to aim for and steer appropriately. You begin with four cards in your hand and will soon encounter a line of five cards hovering on the track. You can pick one up by driving through it, and it will fill your blank spot or replace the card of your choice. You can choose to "play" your hand and cash it in for stars, or you can hold out for better cards. This mode is more of a novelty than anything else, given that it lacks the diverse challenge of the proper races. Nevertheless, it's mildly entertaining and makes a good candidate for some of Excitebots' interesting online features.
Yes, Excitebots has online features, a welcome addition after the local-only action of Excite Trucks. Of course, the most robust option is the six-player online races. These are exciting, lag-free affairs that pit you against a menagerie of human-controlled bots as you race for honor and stars. The only connectivity drawback is that you might end up joining a lobby while a race is in session and have to wait until it is over, but races are short enough that this isn't too onerous. At the beginning of each online race, you wager stars against your performance in the race. When the race is over, your winnings are determined by a spinning cube with multipliers on each side (0x, 1x, 3x, and so on). How good these values are depends on your position in the standings, so losers risk losing their bets while winners cash in. The multipliers feel pretty generous, so unless you're regularly coming in last, the odds are that you'll profit from online play. The other online feature lets you send challenges to your friends (or to your own console for local challenges). After you complete a single-player race, you can send a replay or a score challenge to a friend and attach some of your own stars as a reward. Your friend can earn the stars by watching the full replay or beating your score. This is a clever way of encouraging competition and offers a fun incentive to go back and perform high-scoring runs.
The single-player cups, local versus races (only two players, unfortunately), and online multiplayer all add up to a substantial amount of Trick Racing at a good price. The bevy of unlockables, including a harder difficulty mode for the truly dedicated, provides fun incentives to earn more stars. The Poker Race and minigame mode offer shallow diversions, but the core racing is where Excitebots really succeeds. Though the actual racing is fairly simplistic on its own, the huge amount of wacky stuff thrown into each race more than makes up for it. Excitebots is always challenging you to race faster, perform more stunts, and nail more minigames, and it constantly rewards your efforts with a stream of stars. The generous rewards and the sheer fun of racing make Excitebots an engaging, exciting blast.