Nintendo’s Excitebots: Trick Racing Is Still Waiting to Be Rediscovered

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Nintendo’s Excitebots: Trick Racing Is Still Waiting to Be Rediscovered

Every critic needs at least one game that they care about more than everyone else, that they just stop and think about sometimes and then say, “what a game.” Not a super mainstream successful game that this critic is into more than other people who are super into it, mind you—no credit is given for liking Elden Ring more than the other 24 million people who played the game—but one that has kind of vanished into obscurity, or never left obscurity in the first place. You need at least one of those to pull out at parties or for a social media post that exactly seven people will like and/or respond to.

Excitebots: Trick Racing is one of those games for me. I reviewed it 15 years ago back when it was released—so long ago that the independent publication it ran on no longer has working author archive pages, and finding anything there via Google is a chore. I wrote about it again when I covered the very best Nintendo games, because it is one of the very best Nintendo games—a top 25 title, even. I am mildly obsessed with Excitebots: Trick Racing, but that’s because Excitebots: Trick Racing is worth being mildly obsessed with.

It might sound weird to say that a Nintendo game could ever be even relatively obscure, but this one has the credentials. Consider: it didn’t release in Australia at all due to a “lack of interest.” It arrived in Japan two years after its initial North American date, but only for Japanese Club Nintendo members who had enough points to cash in for a copy. It wasn’t released in Europe. In its first month of sales data—which encompassed the final 10 days of April, 2009—Excitebots: Trick Racing sold just 13,000 copies. This despite glowing reviews from a number of outlets, despite it being a sequel to the popular Excite Truck, and despite it being a first-party Nintendo game released in a month where very little else was happening for the Wii. 

Sales eventually picked up enough to be less sad than that, but not by much. Excitebots: Trick Racing finished at 240,000 units sold worldwide, or, less than half of what Excite Truck had managed. (Or, to bring it back full circle, just one percent of what Elden Ring would eventually sell.) It moved 570,000 fewer copies than Excitebike 64, and also fewer than a Game Boy Advance re-release of the original Excitebike, which at that point was already a 20-year-old game, brought back at a time when the idea of “retro” wasn’t necessarily considered cool or worthwhile. It’s worth pointing out that the Wii sold significantly more consoles than all of the other home platforms for the other games mentioned in this paragraph. Again, this wasn’t a niche role-playing game where around a quarter-million copies could be labeled successful. This was a first-party racer from a company with a bunch of killer racers in their library, a sequel to a game that did well commercially and critically at the Wii’s launch, and it didn’t even crack 250,000 sales.

That’s fine. Any of you who aren’t included in that 240,000, or who didn’t wise up in time for the Wii U digital re-release of the game, simply missed out. And you can’t make up for your mistake, either, because Excitebots: Trick Racing isn’t legally available anywhere. This is also where the intense level of caring comes from: you should play Excitebots: Trick Racing, but you cannot, not without purchasing one of the copies that someone out there is willing to part with for a Wii or Wii U system you still happen to have. You should if you can, especially since a copy with its box is still going for under $12 on average per PriceCharting, but it would also be better if Nintendo would simply give it the HD coat of paint it needs, along with revived servers, and then drop it onto the Switch with the kind of marketing attention they did not give it the first time around. Oh, and force Australia to have it this time, too; they don’t know what’s good for them.

So, Nintendo: do that. Do it yesterday. Put Excitebots: Trick Racing back into the world, and I can stop writing about it, other than the initial moment where I say, “hey, go buy this, it whips” to anyone who will listen.

Why should they, though? What makes Excitebots so excellent and worthy of this affection and these demands? It might have the word “Excite” in it, but it shares very little with that series in general. There are elements, sure, like how angling yourself for jumps and landings matters, especially at the expert levels, since it impacts how quickly you move when your wheels touch the ground again. Excitebots, though, is significantly different from even its direct predecessor made by the same developer, Monster Games, on the same console, using the same kind of basic course designs. Whereas Excite Truck’s hook was Excite-style rules, now offroad and with trucks rather than dirtbikes, Excitebots’ hook is that it is absolutely batshit and incessant.

You are not driving a truck, nor a bike. You are driving (or are yourself) a transforming robot vehicle designed to look like an animal or a bug, that on occasion can convert from having wheels to running on its legs, which lets you more recklessly speed ahead at a greater pace. A transforming robot vehicle that will sometimes be used as a bowling ball to knock down pins that appear on the course, or to swing at a baseball thrown from who knows where and attempt to send it into orbit, or to kick a field goal through uprights, a soccer ball into a goal, to throw a dart at a dartboard, or a pie at a clown’s face. Your transforming robot vehicle can also play the tambourine to finish up a song that’s been started for you, and it can even make a sandwich mid-race. You get some item boxes to pick up that let you speed ahead via rocket and so on, but there are some that will transform the landscape—putting a big hill you can drive up and jump off of where there previously was not a big hill, that sort of thing—or allow you to play any of these little mid-race microgames as you speed through a desert or forest or a Chinese village. 

That robot arm can also be used to grab various poles that are at different orientations, to launch yourself into the air or straight ahead at high speeds by making yourself spin around the pole to build up the momentum that’ll launch you if you can successfully pull it off. You earn stars for all of these actions, whether you successfully complete them or not. Finishing first in the race is a marker of success, yes, but it’s not the entire point: you can win an Excitebots race without winning it, if you were able to collect enough stars from the games and poles and jumps and 1080 and 1440 mid-air spins and the dangerously close racing next to lines of trees you could crash into at any moment and… there’s a lot going on in every Excitebots race. And the fact that there are a whole bunch of difficulty levels to master, that only unlock with sufficient success on the previous difficulties, means that it’s going to take you time to truly master this game’s particular brand of enjoyable nonsense.

It cannot be overstated how fast-paced and ridiculous the game is. How much there is to be doing at any given time, to become an expert in, how on-the-edge-of-your-seat it all feels. You kind of have to see it all in action to get a sense of it, because simply saying “you can make a sandwich mid-race and it helps your chances to win” doesn’t explain anything.

Here’s a clip from the vital 10min Gameplay account on YouTube, of some early stages that just give you a general sense of the game:


And here’s Excitebots played on a high level by someone who has practiced a lot, as they’re able to earn a Platinum rank on the highest difficulty:



You have to put in an absurd amount of work to get to the point where you can earn a Platinum on Super Excite, but it’s worth it. It is all so very worth it.

I return to Excitebots every few years, and have to sort of relearn its intricacies each time: there’s plenty of muscle memory to rely on to a degree, but the nuances, the optimal pathways, the ability to react at the exact right time rather than have to think about what to do, which of the many, many cars work best for various course types and goals, that all comes from recent repetition. It blows me away that Nintendo managed to release a game with the kind of intensity and speed of F-Zero GX, with even more layers of depth to it and an endless supply of absurdity on top of it all, that successfully utilized motion controls for driving in these conditions by shifting from true steering to a more angular, tilt-based setup, and it just achieved nothing, besides becoming the object of my affections. Which means a lot to me, yes, but isn’t necessarily going to show up in the Legacy section of a Wiki page. Time has only made me enjoy it more, too: it was well-loved by me at publication time of my initial review, but the more I play other racers, the further we get away from the time when this game launched, the more I love it. It deserves a second chance, and you deserve a second chance to experience it, as well.

The only way I know how to make that happen is well-intentioned whining about the lack of Excitebots: Trick Racing in our lives, so that’s what’s been chosen here. It’s a special game, the best of the Excite bunch, and just ridiculous. In the best way. It was probably released at the wrong time, before digital-only releases of “big” games was a normal thing or the existence of a digital market at all meant that more risks could be taken with something that, again, Nintendo Australia went “no thank you” about. So it didn’t hit out of the gate, it persisted as much as it did because it was, in the end, a Nintendo game on a Nintendo system, but was really just forgotten about aside from its brief re-release on the Wii U as a digital title. And now it’s 15 years old, and nowhere to be found, with no indication that will ever change, either.

If Cruis’n Blast can serve as a well-received revival point for that franchise in the present, then why not bring back Excitebots as a way of reviving the Excite series? A new game isn’t even necessary, not when there’s a perfectly killer one sitting right there that most people who would love it haven’t played or maybe even heard of before. And if Nintendo isn’t convinced by that, well, see you all in five years on this same subject again, then.

Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.

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