More tricks than a Nevada brothel on Halloween.
Monster Games, the developers of ExciteBots: Trick Racing, have evidently been spending a little too much time in little boys’ rooms lately. Anything you’d expect to find stuffed into a boy’s toy box can probably be found in ExciteBots: footballs, baseball bats, race cars, dartboards, toy frogs, bats, bugs, and—of course—transforming robots. The game’s a veritable smorgasbord of prepubescent masculinity.
[image1]Continuing where Excite Truck left off, Monster Games’ ExciteBots: Trick Racing builds directly on the core mechanics of its predecessor, and even includes many recycled versions of the prior game’s tracks. Where the first game combined racing with nifty track deformation and basic spin tricks, ExciteBots adds a seemingly endless supply of new tricks, objects, and gimmicks. ExciteBots plays the part of Excite Truck’s kid brother—hyper, frenetic, entertaining in small doses, and indiscriminate in its taste for anything straight out of the toy aisle at a grocery store.
In addition to the basic jumps and spins seen in the last game, you’ll now do odd things like launch giant soccer balls into giant goals, rescue butterflies trapped in plastic spheres, throw pies at laughing clowns, perform backflips hundreds of feet into the air, and do just about anything else that might come from the sugar-crazed mind of a ten-year-old boy.
The focus in ExciteBots isn’t on crossing the finish line, but rather on collecting stars. Like an exaggerated version of Project Gotham Racing’s kudos system, nearly everything you do—and even some things you don’t—earns you stars. On top of that, there is also a never-ending supply of bonus stars. Time a trick well, and you’ll get extra stars. Add an extra spin or two, and you’ll get extra stars. Bump another racer hard enough, and, well, you get the idea.
While there are AI opponents in single-player mode, you won’t actually compete against them; instead, you must break a predetermined point total. How well the other racers do has no effect on your final ranking; they’re just there to get in your way. This means that you might actually cross the finish line last, but still get the highest rank possible. You do win bonus stars for placing well, but you can easily make up the difference by taking your time and performing a few extra 1080s and field goals, so there’s little incentive to actually race. Most other trick racing games—like Pure or SSX—will offer both a racing mode and a trick mode as separate ways to play. Unfortunately, ExciteBots: Trick Racing does not, so we’re left with a lot of “trick”, but not any real “racing”.
[image2]There are also two additional play modes. The first is a requisite mini-game collection available in both single-player and two-player offline versus. The second is a poker game available both on- and offline. While the poker game is unusual, neither mode is anything that will take you away from the main game for very long.
Multiplayer introduces genuine competition, with each player competing for the highest score. Setting up an online race is easy, but is limited to only five other racers. While it’s good to see that it’s finally becoming expected that Wii games include easy-to-access online play, it’s surprising to see a racing game that’s limited to so few racers—especially since ExciteBots’ main competition, Mario Kart Wii, allows twice that number.
The true heart of the game, however, is its vehicles. Your bots begin each race in their robot form, running to the start line. As each race begins, they transform into their respective vehicles, each one modeled after some critter or other. Even after many hours of play, watching this sequence brings a smile to my face every time. Once a race is underway, your bot puts its many robotic perks to use: a hook comes out of its back to grab bars, it sprouts legs to run through rough sections, it glides in robot form through wide open spaces, and so on. Watching these robots in action, it’s hard to believe no one thought of this sooner.
However, it’s disappointing that the different kinds of bots don’t have more unique features and abilities. They each have different weights and turbo capacities, but not one of their native abilities comes into play. A grasshopper robot won’t jump higher, a rat robot won’t bite, and a frog robot won’t make you hallucinate when you lick it. For such an imaginative concept, it’s painfully short on imagination and full of missed opportunities.
[image3]Worse, though, is that not only are the races actually just trick competitions, they’re also so full of objects, items, and trick spots that it’s just too much. What made Excite Truck such a solid game was that it took a few simple ideas and presented them in a nice, tight package. But ExciteBots adds far too many ideas and pounds them into the ground at every turn. It’s hard to imagine that many design concepts were edited out of this game in the development process, and it stumbles under the weight of so much detritus.
For cheap thrills, ExciteBots gets the job done. The transforming creepy crawly machines are so much fun to watch in action that it seems unfair to judge this game too harshly. Unfortunately, it’s also hard not to feel that with a bit more time and care, the core idea could have been expanded into a brilliant kart-style racer. But taken at face value as a mindless, over-the-top trick-focused racer with transforming robots, ExciteBots: Trick Racing is the best way to dig through a boy’s virtual toy box without worrying about Chris Hansen knocking at your door.