Even the most loyal of Nintendo supporters could not disagree that the majority of the launch titles available for the machine were, in some way, ports or upgrades from other formats. ExciteTruck happens to be one of the exceptions; a bruising bounce-around, fun-laden truck racer with big aspirations and even bigger air. The question to ask: can it stand out from the other releases by virtue of its differing features?
If truth be told, there is almost nothing on display that could not have been achieved on the GameCube. This is not a detrimental aspect however. What the Wii version does achieve over any possible attempt by its predecessors is the precision, simplicity and realism of the control system (if you can call flying through the air at 100mph in a big truck, almost going into orbit and landing ten seconds later with nary a scratch realistic now).
By parsing down the control system to just three actions (accelerate, brake and turbo) and allowing the functionality of the remote to handle the rest, it makes the game more accessible to everyone (which is one of Nintendo's general aims) and more fun to actually play than just moving a stick about. The remote itself must be tilted left and right to turn the truck, and forward and back to angle it during jumps and for landing. Playing the tutorial all the way through is recommended, even though it starts at dumb-level basic, to demonstrate all the various possibilities within the game.
Using the remote in this fashion does allow for more precise control during races, which is quite necessary given how the game works. Needless to say real world physics do come into play, even if the laws of gravity are occasionally exaggerated. The tilt concept makes gameplay a little more challenging, but works better for the game than a traditional push of left or right on a stick would. You can't go yanking it all over the shop to perform some miraculous hairpin turns; trucks don't work like that in real life for the most part and their performance marries the control system. You have to carefully judge how much tilt is required to get around each corner, and sometimes speed will come into this equation also.
It isn't uncommon either to find the truck not turning how you would like it, mainly due to either turning too sharply, going too fast for the surface it is travelling on, or just getting popped up, jump wise, by a piece of the environment. There's little ‘wall riding’ available and the game is much better for it; skill will determine the outcome more than going as fast as possible. Learning the courses and what works in various parts of each is a key aspect to scoring better and opening up new tracks.
There isn't a requirement to come first in each race and score the big winning bonus, though it does help, but there is the need to perform well. During the race stars can be accrued for gaining air, landing properly on all four wheels, bumping other vehicles, weaving in between trees, and even crashing amongst other things. To be able to progress to the next set of tracks means scoring enough stars during each of the current set of races. And this is where much of ExciteTruck's subtly comes into play, a balance between speed and progress (winning the race scores 50 stars) and executing enough stunts on the track to break the target required.
To assist in star earning, there are two main dynamics that must be exploited correctly. Firstly at various intervals there are terrain-altering pickups which can cause parts of the course to change, usually for the better, to allow more stars to be scored. Secondly the turbo boost, which can gain ground, get bigger air and blast the vehicle over rough terrain. Whilst turbo is unlimited, its use is limited by a temperature gauge, though this can be offset by driving through a certain course feature.
Difficulty-wise, the first set of tracks shouldn't prove too difficult to conquer (maybe a couple of goes each), but it does start getting progressively harder for each set. Part of the difficulty is in needing to learn the course layouts and how to get as many stars as possible out of them. Where you come in the race only determines how many extra bonus stars are added to the total, as each race is held on its own singular stead, unlike say GP mode in Mario Kart or F-Zero.
All this frenzied speed, over-the-top flying stunts and sheer lunacy of driving in an almost out-of-control nature makes ExciteTruck a bizarre spiritual successor to that old classic Stunt Car Racer. Certainly Geoff Crammond's masterpiece is about the closest approximation you will get to understand the enjoyment of speed and thrills that the game presents.
Yetwhilst fun in short bursts, ExciteTruck does tend to feel a bit samey after prolonged play. Also, computer controlled opponents don't provide a direct physical challenge to your progress, they don't actively josh or block your way for instance. The main obstacle to progression is how competent you are at getting around the course and earning those stars. Multiplayer temporarily relieves these problems, but sadly the game only allows a maximum of two human participants, presumably due to the developers wanting to always maintain a smooth visual performance.
Whilst it won't compete with next-gen games in terms of sheer visual impressiveness, what is on show is very smooth, highly detailed and consistent. Likewise the draw distance of the courses, especially when floating through the air with the greatest of ease, is vast and there's no sign of any fog; it's bright, clear weather all round. Except when a course calls for rain to be introduced which bogs down proceedings slightly.
ExciteTruck is an impressive launch title for the Wii, and whilst it is hard to see how much further the concept could have been pushed, the quality of its execution and enjoyment gained from barrelling around the courses cannot be faulted. Most of them are well designed and quite realistic in concept with hills and valleys, peaks and troughs, water, trees and plants all scattered around. Most importantly, ExciteTruck is massive fun to play, which is still the most vital of aspects in any game. Once you've finished completing Zelda, it will be sitting there deservedly awaiting your perusal.