Nintendo has created so many franchises over the years that it's been easy for a few to fall by the wayside. But if there's one thing Nintendo has learned with its recent reissues of classic NES titles on GBAe and the coming Virtual Console for Nintendo Wii, is that it's worthwhile to pay homage to their past. So it was with an almost reverent joy that I received the news that Nintendo is at least paying lip service to one of my most favorite, most forgotten NES titles on the Nintendo Wii.
Pit, from Kid Icarus, is making an appearance in Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
How awesome is that, eh? The Kid Icarus main character finally making a comeback! Nintendo's got to be softening people up for a full game! Oh, yeah, it is also continuing the Excitebike franchise with Excite Truck. I guess that's okay too.
I'll be honest - despite being heavily pushed during Nintendo's press conference, I wasn't holding high hopes for this to be particularly good. Competent, I supposed, but not necessarily good. I don't think anyone else was particularly enamored by the sound of the title either, with the lines, while still hefty, a walk in the park compared to some. The demo offered a choice of either the balmy, sandy beaches of Fiji or the red, sun scorched deserts of Mexico, but didn't offer any choice of vehicle, and was played entirely with the Wii controller, no nunchuck. You hold the controller sideways, in the NES style configuration, but you tilt the controller to turn the truck left and right. It's worth pointing out that you aren't ‘turning' the controller. As you wouldn't naturally be driving a car with a wheel that's at a 90 degree angle to yourself, this feels surprisingly natural supposing you imagine the controller held sideways as the crossbar of an imaginary wheel.
Sadly, however, the controller requires that you push buttons while playing, which feels a little less natural by necessity. The d-pad fires the truck's turbo boost, and the 1 and 2 buttons act as brake and accelerate respectively. Now, as it's quite unlikely that when using a steering wheel you'd have to be pushing buttons, this does damage the immersion factor, but it's not the worst aspect. After all, I'm sure that people will be offering third party foot pedals within seconds of the controller hitting the shops.
More worrying, and it's a problem that was faced by the other game on show which used tilt steering, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, is that unlike with a real steering wheel, or even an analogue stick, there is absolutely no feedback to let you know when you're at the apex of a turn. You are, after all, turning an object in the air that isn't attached to anything. This could, hopefully, be remedied with subtle use of the vibration pack, the Wii controller's ace in the hole (certainly against the PS3, in retrospect) but in the version on show I often found myself unsure if I making the most of the Wii controller's turning circle.
The control issues aside, which I'm quite convinced can be dealt with, Excite Truck more than lived up to its name, offering tracks with wide range of off road terrain and multiple paths. The most exciting part of the not-entirely-linear tracks had to be the ability to modify the terrain in real time by hitting question marks littered around the course, allowing the player to add gigantic, Excitebike-style peaks to the course, launching the truck for some absolutely gargantuan air.
Indeed, while it might not initially seem like it, this does seem to be worthy successor to the Excitebike name. Much like the original, a large amount of your time is spent carefully adjusting your position in mid air, and it's in these situations - where that the lack of obvious force feedback should be intentional - that using the Wii controller to softly nudge and tilt the truck comes into it's own. A successful landing is challenging, but highly rewarding.
Crashes are just as well rewarded, however, and the more catastrophic the better, with a button-bashing mechanic in place to gain a quick turbo boost once you're returned to the track. This certainly makes the choice between playing it safe and staying the course or seeking out extreme crashes an interesting one, even in a race scenario.
My slight worries about the lack of feedback on the controller were never quite dissuaded, however, and I was never satisfied that I was getting the most out of the controls. From my short time with the title I can tell that not only is subtlety of control possible, but that Excite Truck offers the potential to be a tremendously fun game. I just hope that a greater level of force feedback is on offer on the final title to allow the player to really enjoy it.
Excite Truck is yet another Nintendo Wii title with no set release date. Not even the hint of one.