Excite Truck Hands-On

We hit the dirt with one of the first driving games to arrive on Nintendo's Wii.

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Every console launch needs a good driving game. And with Excite Truck, Nintendo attempts to show you how well the Wii can handle one of gaming's staple genres. This dirt-track racer will let you drive a variety of four-wheeled vehicles by holding the Wiimote horizontally and tilting it as you would a steering wheel. We tried a preview of the game at Nintendo's prelaunch event in London, and we managed to play quite a few Excite Race single events.

The preview build of Excite Truck featured tracks in Mexico, Fiji, Canada, and Scotland, all of which varied wildly in terms of design and scenery. In Mexico, wide tracks and numerous bumps provided a gentle introduction to the basics of jumping. In Fiji, however, winding tracks provided more obstacles and water sections. Scotland looked suitably gloomy, with trees to block the path of the more adventurous driver, and castles dotted the scenery to remind you of the venue's heritage. The graphics were fairly rudimentary, but the designers clearly put some thought into the track layouts.

This arcade racer provides plenty of spectacular jumps and power-ups...
This arcade racer provides plenty of spectacular jumps and power-ups...

It will certainly take some time to get used to Excite Truck's control system, but after a couple of races, we stopped skidding around every corner and finally gained some control of the vehicles. You hold the Wiimote horizontally with your hands placed at each end of the unit. You soon forget you're holding a bar and a natural steering instinct comes into play. One thumb is placed on the A button to accelerate, and you slow down either by letting go of this button or by performing controlled slides around corners. In addition, you can tilt the Wiimote backward to attain higher jumps at the crest of a hill and forward to bring your car down when it's in the air.

Your aim in Excite Truck is to earn as many stars as possible by completing challenges throughout the race and finishing the race in the highest position. Numerous bonuses are scattered throughout each race, some of which automatically terraform the track in front of you. Others bonuses draw rings in the air that you need to jump through to earn stars. There are also power-ups, such as boosts, which you can use to power around the track, but less cautious drivers could find themselves ploughing into a roadside obstacle. If you total your car by crashing into an obstacle or another car, you have to tap quickly on the controller to rebuild it. Stars are also awarded for gaining air, and just like in the Mario Kart series, you're awarded an overall grade at the end of the race.

...while tracks range from the beaches of Fiji to the dirt tracks of Mexico.
...while tracks range from the beaches of Fiji to the dirt tracks of Mexico.

Of the 11 vehicles that are set to be available in the final game, we got to play with three in our demo--the boulder, firefly, and wolf. These three trucks varied in size, from smaller buggy-style vehicles right up to the full-on trucks that are promised by the game's title. Each car had a number of paint jobs available, and with six vehicles per race, things can get fairly hectic on the track. The demo we played let us sample the single-race game, but the finished game will provide challenges, a versus mode, and tutorials. It will also feature two levels of difficulty in the form of "excite" and "super excite," as well as bronze, silver, gold, and platinum level cups to win.

You don't often hear the words "excite" and "truck" together, but Nintendo's game looks like it will deliver on both accounts. It also looks as if Excite Truck will be one of the first ways for racing fans to test out the new controller, and on the evidence so far, it should be great fun to play in multiplayer mode. While the jury's out on whether or not it will provide a long-term challenge, it seems to nail down the simple mechanics that have served previous launch titles, such as WaveRace 64. We'll find out whether it deserves to make it into your new Wii soon enough, with the game launching on November 19 in the US and on December 8 in Europe.

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