'Excitebots' a fun, twisted race

The stream of zany antics never lets up in this racing acid trip.


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This is probably how the brainstorming meeting for the new game "Excitebots" went down:

"All right, we built a really solid foundation with our first game, and there are a lot of devoted fans out there, so it's high time for a sequel. What fresh new ideas can we bring to the racing genre this time around?"



"Yes, sandwiches. And tambourines."

Through some stroke of luck, a game as nonsensical and silly as "Excitebots" has not only been allowed to exist, but has even been welcomed into Nintendo's prestigious first-party portfolio. Developer Monster Games should be feeling very fortunate for this because no one would give their game nearly as much attention otherwise. And a game this effortlessly fun should be receiving plenty of attention.

"Excitebots" parallels the structure of "Excite Truck," which is still a unique and fun twist on ordinary point-to-point racing. The tracks are wide open and full of branching paths. Passing races requires meeting a quota of stars, and while finishing in first place definitely bolsters your star count, you can still get away with finishing second or third if you perform enough jumps, drifts and stunts beforehand.

Despite being tied to Nintendo's "Excitebike" series in name, "Excitebots" has more in common with "Burnout" than anything else. Turbo boost is on almost constantly, the sense of speed is fantastic and you can earn stars by smashing into other bots. It adheres to a similar philosophy of drive dangerously, and even if you screw up, it's still fun. The game will even throw you a pity star and say "Nice crash!" after driving headfirst into a tree.

There's never a dull moment while racing; the game makes sure to throw something new at each driver every five seconds. Right after landing a massive jump, you'll have to pick up a pie and throw it at a clown's face, then start running on your two robot legs and kick a football through a field goal -- it's a lot like playing "WarioWare" in the middle of a car race, which is awesome.

For as much stupid fun as the races are, the controls and vehicle handling never feel quite right. Having to tilt the Wii remote left and right, combined with vehicles that have what feels like oil-slicked wheels, makes precision the toughest obstacle to overcome in "Excitebots." You can overcome it through practice and patience, especially after remembering the existence of the brake button.

Other than the sparse amount of racetrack environments, "Excitebots" has tremendous re-playability. Earning the highest possible rank on each of the first 20-25 events unlocks the even more difficult Super Excite mode, and even Mirror mode after that. The game also includes a handful of challenging mini-games, including the deviously difficult Poker Race. Try dividing your attention between winning the race and building a "full house."

The local two-player versus modes are fairly boring due to the lack of other A.I. racers, but the six-player online races are a blast. The ability to wager some of your stars on races actually makes this mode the quickest way to earn tons of stars (for buying new bots and paint jobs), and the races themselves never suffer from online lag.

When playing "Excitebots" with an audience, you'll probably be asked at some point to explain why a mechanical frog on wheels is playing soccer and going fishing in the middle of the race. The appropriate response? "Why not?" Monster Games clearly got as much mileage out of its creative freedom as possible, and players will have as much fun playing "Excitebots" as Monster did creating it.

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