Excite Bike is one of those Nintendo series that has been around since the beginning of time but is still a rare site to behold. So imagine the surprise when E3 attendees discovered a game titled "Excite Truck" available to play on the Nintendo Wii. As odd as the decision to change the vehicle used in the game might sound, after running through the demo a couple of times I think Nintendo may be on to something.

The game was actually very easy to control with the Wii Remote. Much like Sonic: Wild Fire, you played the entire game with only the remote (no nunchuck needed). To play you hold the remote horizontally and use two hands; it's very similar to a NES controller in this position, with a D-Pad and A button on the left and the 1 and 2 buttons on the right. The 1 button is gas. You steer your truck by tilting the controller from side to side (pushing either end of the controller down). Due to the amount of ramps and jumps in the game, players were also in the air a lot. While in mid-air, you could tilt the truck on its y-axis by rotating the controller forward or backward, in addition to the standard steering. This allowed you to make a directed landing. In this regard, the game played very similar to Excite Bike 64, except it was much easier to control and didn't have as sharp a learning curve.

There were two playable tracks at E3. The Fiji track and the Mexico track. Both tracks looked rather similar (lots of sand, bushes, cactus). The only difference was that the Mexico track was lusher and the Fiji course featured more water and a wooden bridge.

There are a few new gameplay elements that have been added to this version of the Excite series. Players can accumulate stars during the race for passing people, pulling off tricks or for just being in first place. The more stars received, the better grade the player receives at the end of the race. Also added is terrain deformation. Throughout the course gamers will see spinning question "?" marks floating around. When nabbed, the terrain (around 100 feet ahead of the player's vehicle) will deform in an attempt to mess up the opposition ahead of the racer. In the demo, the only deformation that took place was large hills/jumps and banks; however, dips, pits, and other hazards are planned for the final release version. The deformation transformation itself is rather smooth and unless the player is specifically watching for it, it can be easily missed -- though the resulting hill or valley is pretty noticeable.

The game did have a few issues. It was far too easy to crash (much like every other Excite game) and there seemed to be too many arbitrary walls way too close to the track itself. On top of that, any collision with even the smallest of trees is fatal. Going too deep into the water is also a no-no. It did seem like the developers have already tried to address the frequent crashing by giving players a huge turbo boost right after every crash (it appears that you can charge it up by mashing on the "2" button immediately after a crash), but even this doesn't prevent it from becoming an annoyingly repetitive experience.

Graphically, the game leaves something to be desired. The trucks look okay enough, but the environments themselves are very sparse. As I said before, the two courses in the demo were very similar. Both are wide open and distinguishable only by some water placement and difference in terrain color. This isn't too big a deal for the demo, but Nintendo should definitely take it up a notch and give each track some personality in the final game. As it stands, Excite Truck's visuals aren't even up to current generation GameCube standards.

Overall, the game still plays very much like Excite games of old (see the frequent crashing...). Players have turbo boosts as well, which are activated with the A button (on the left side of the controller). There is a corresponding turbo gauge that can overheat on you though, so it's wise to be careful. The vehicle can get up to excessively fast speeds (anywhere from 115-170 mph). Unfortunately, the number of drivers per race was limited to six.

Though the demo was very rough and it had its share of issues, Excite Truck does have a lot of potential. The idea of deforming terrain is very cool. I hope they put that to good use. It would be very fun to be able to design your own courses as well, like in the original Excite Bike. The steering and landing controls also work reasonably well. The real challenge for Nintendo is going to be how to take a solid demo and turn it into a racing game with some actual substance and personality.

One thing is for certain though: racing games with freestyle controls have the potential to be a whole lot of fun.