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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Excitebots (Wii)

Taking a unique spin on an already successful formula, Excitebots for the Wii is a frenetic arcade-style racer that adds numerous tricks, stunts and mini-games to the already solid mechanics that made ExciteTruck so entertaining. This time around, instead of trucks, you control bots that take various forms. While the basic design is similar, these new vehicles implement stunt abilities that allow you to perform some pretty cool tricks. Shaking and spinning your wii-mote around adds some immersion to the races. There are also many mini-games, such as rolling over bowling pins, kicking soccer balls and even playing poker. Excitebots' multiplayer modes have been enhanced with support for Wi-fi play and split-screen action. While it seems a bit gimmicky at first, Excitebots adds enough new elements to the formula to make for a worthwhile sequel.

Picking up where the Wii launch title ExciteTruck left off, Excitebots takes the racing series in some interesting new directions. The basic mechanics and layout of the game should be familiar. Your objective is to finish each race in first place, but that isn't all you have to do. Throughout each race, you can earn stars by completing stunts, making massive jumps and hitting other vehicles. There are loads of hidden areas in the game as well that you can use for even more points. Each level in the game gives you a certain number of stars that you need to earn in order to clear it, and you won't necessarily be able to clear a stage solely by speed alone. Performing stunts and building up your score is a key part of the game. Once you've completed all the stages in one area, you'll unlock the next cup. You have a decent selection of courses at the start, but things gradually open up as you play through the game. Earning stars is also important when it comes to buy additional vehicles and colors, since these can only be purchased once you attain the required stars. This structure makes Excitebots fairly easy to understand, and it's simple play controls make the game a quick learner. You steer using the wii-mote, or a wheel add-on and press on the 2 button to accelerate. If you want to use turbo for lightning speed, simply press on the d-pad. However, you only have a limited amount of this to use before your bot overheats, so use it wisely. Most of the racing is fairly standard, but there are some truly massive jumps and turns you have to race along. Add the constantly changing environments and you have an intense, speedy arcade racing game that challenges your reflexes. Its physics aren't entirely realistic, especially in the floaty feel when your vehicle is suspended in the air, but the exaggerated movement and simple, straightforward arcade-style controls are a big part of Excitebots' wide-ranging appeal.

Obviously, the biggest change this time around are the new bots, which take inspiration from animals such as ladybugs, bats, grasshoppers, mice and more. These vehicles take different forms and control with more versatility than the trucks did, adding a new layer of gameplay to the races. They have new abilities and stunts, the most important of which seem to be grappling hooks. At certain points in some races, you'll encounter red bars that you need to swing around in order to progress. Moving the controller around in a series of circular motions makes you spin faster and faster, earning you more starts when you launch off. Its kind of difficult to get the hang of at first, but once you get spinning you'll find that it becomes part and parcel to the experience. Additionally, you can use the hooks to spin around and get back on tracks. When your bot crashes, instead of pressing down on the buttons like you did in the first game, you have to swing the controller around in order to recover. Each stage is set in a far flung location and there are several dozen tracks included in the game. The tracks themselves still change when you hit one of the special power-ups, which makes them unpredictable. However, now you'll also have to contend with new mini-game sections where you earn extra stars by successfully completing these stunts. The new stunts include many sports themed ones, such as kicking a football through goal posts, knocking down all the pins in a bowling game or throwing a dart to a target. These add extra stars and beating them is essential if you want to meet your star quota for each level. Excitebots' other new mechanic is more subtle, but adds to the gameplay just as much. When you're faced with a large jump, you can spin your bot around and perform stunts to make an even higher score bonus. These new elements combine to build on the existing gameplay from the first game to create something that feels both familiar and fresh simultaneously.

These changes and additions make for a somewhat deeper and more exciting game, and the developers at Monster Games have added an array of mini-games to the mix. These can be played separately from the main courses, but you can still earn plenty of stars. Making your way through all the mini-games has the added benefit of refining skills and techniques you can apply to the main races, too. One of the most enjoyable, if odd modes is a poker-themed game where you build hands out of cards you race over and earn stars for good ones. It's a lot of fun and signifies the offbeat approach that makes Excitebots such an unexpected surprise. There are tons of these mini-games to unlock and while they might seem like frivolous extras, these mini-games enhance Excitebots' replay value. Another new addition this time around is the ability to play online against other players with the new wi-fi mode. Setting this up can be a bit of a chore thanks to those infernal friend codes, but the effort is worth it, since you can compete online and earn a ranking on the international leaderboards. From a visual standpoint, the game hasn't progressed that much in the three years since the original game, and its engine feels almost identical to the first game, though maybe a bit slower on balance. The courses show a little bit more detail, but they still aren't anything to get excited about. Excitebots' bland music score is a bit of background and doesn't really add that much to the game. On balance, these problems are relatively minor and don't detract from what is an otherwise solidly entertaining and fun title. Those players who enjoyed Excitetruck will definitely want to check this sequel out, and gamers new to the series will find its almost non-existent learning curve makes for a racing title with immediate appeal. It's simple, arcade-style play mechanics make Excitebots an enjoyable game. There aren't any revolutionary changes this time around, but this is a title. Excitebots' gameplay is not overly difficult or intimidating and this game should appeal to a broad audience of Wii owners.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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