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.
Every young robot mouse car dreams of one day soaring majestically through the air.
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.