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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s tempting to just ignore the “Excitebike” franchise when discussing Nintendo’s latest arcade racer, because with the exception of its title, “Excitebots: Trick Racing” is so vastly different from the original game that it’s almost impossible to see a connection. Of course, after the somewhat unexpected failure of “Excite Truck,” that’s exactly what the franchise needed. Most racing titles make slight tweaks between installments, but the “Excite” series has gone from dirt bikes to trucks to animal robots over the course of only three games, and while that may sound like one of the craziest things you’ve ever heard, well, crazy is what “Excitebots” does best.
Using the basic controls of “Excite Truck” as its core, “Excitebots” places you not behind the wheel of a vehicle, but rather a robotic animal (like a frog, bat, turtle or mouse) that can race, run and even glide its way to the finish line. Oddly enough, racing becomes the least of your worries when competing in the game’s Excite Race tournament mode. Sure, you get bonus stars for finishing first and second that help in achieving each map’s designated star total, but the crux of the game comes down to the stars you collect throughout the race. These are earned in a variety of ways, from jumps, tricks and drifts to in-game challenges like swinging around bars, dodging trees, and playing sports-themed minigames where you ram soccer balls into goals, hit a bull's eye with giant darts and more. It’s just as weird as it sounds and twice as fun.
One of the reasons "Excitebots" works as well as it does is the way the Wiimote is utilized throughout the game. The controls are simple enough, but each in-game challenge is accomplished in a different way. The minigames are easy to master as long as you can drive straight and press A at the right time, but there are others that are more difficult. Swinging from Red Bars (which requires you to move the Wiimote in a circular motion in time with your robot) is really easy to screw up, while Leg Running (where your robot sprouts legs and runs) gets you off track more often than not. Then again, that tends to happen no matter what you do, because “Excitebots" is so fast-paced that every jump and turn feels like a frantic recalculation of your last mistake.
It sounds worse than it is, and though that might anger some people who would rather just straight-up race, that’s not the point of the game. In fact, save for the Excite Race tournament mode and the six-player online mode, “Excitebots” is more about the quirky minigames than the actual racing. There’s a whole section dedicated to playing just the minigames that appear throughout the ten or so tracks, while Poker Race (a minigame disguised as a full-fledged game mode) tasks you with creating poker hands using cards scattered across the course. The latter is definitely the most absurd of the bunch, but it’s surprisingly fun and difficult enough that you’ll immediately want to play it again.
It’s a good thing there’s so much replay value, too, because the extras you can unlock (from new robots and paint jobs to statues and meaningless icons) using the stars you’ve earned along the way requires some serious dedication. You might not think you’ll spend more than a few hours on “Excitebots,” but the game is like “Mario Kart” on crack. It might not match the quality of Nintendo's flagship title, but I'd be lying if I didn't say "Excitebots: Trick Racing" had the potential to be the future of racing on the Wii.