We'll talk more about the speed later, but first we'll focus on the controls. To play Excite Truck you use only the Wii Remote turned on its side and held horizontally, like a traditional controller.
Your right thumb sits nicely over the 1 and 2 face buttons (which are used for braking and accelerating respectively), and your left thumb sits on the D-Pad. But instead of using the D-pad to steer your truck (the D-pad instead activates your boost), you simply tilt the remote left and right like a steering wheel.
How does it feel? Weird at first. We spent most of our first race snaking left and right down straights, a bit like a girl playing Gran Turismo (as in, non-gaming girls, okay). The thing is, it's unbelievably sensitive. You're immediate instinct is to swing the controller left and right like you would a normal steering wheel peripheral. But that makes you slam into walls.
After two races, we were totally used to it, and playing it like a normal racer without a problem. What you soon realise is that you only need to make small tilting motions to steer moderately. At a guess, we'd say tilting the controller around 45 degrees off its horizontal axis reaches maximum turn in that direction. Even though we got used to it, we hope there's the option to tweak the sensitivity to personal tastes.
Steering isn't the only function that the movement sensitivity affects. The extreme courses in the version we played, set in Mexico, Fiji, Scotland and Canada, are packed with ramps that launch you into the air. That's all good, but if you want to get some insane height on your jumps, you twist the controller towards you, yanking the front of the truck upwards like a plane. Immediately firing off your boosters and performing a boost jump, which gets you massive air basically.
The jumps are so high you feel like you've broken gravity. You soar through the air, sometimes far high enough to clear huge stretches of forestry, cutting out massive sections of the course. While you're airborne, you can tilt the remote backwards and forwards to align your wheels with the ground below (just like in Excitebike). If you land perfectly you'll earn yourself a free boost, which will automatically send your truck rocketing forwards.
That's what the game's all about; if you own the skills to do boost jumps, perfect landings and dodge through trees without crashing, your truck will boost. If you're good enough, you'll be almost constantly boosting all the time and that's when things get mental. To make things even crazier, dotted around the course are large icons which, when collected, trigger terrain-changing events.
As you're racing you'll literally see the ground morph to form new hills to leap from, or new deep quarries to race through. The more extreme icons trigger volcanoes to erupt, spitting rocks all over the course, or giant tornadoes to form, causing all sorts of mayhem. Grabbing these icons can not only give you new routes through the courses, but can also be used to hinder the progress of your opponents.
But reaching the finish line first is not what gets you the gold medal; at the end of the cup tournament (each cup spanning four races like in Mario Kart), the winner is the one with the most stars. Yes, you earn stars for winning races (50 for the winner, 25 for second place and so on) but you snag most of your stars through jumping, drifting, crashing and generally driving like a clown. It's a great system that promotes chaotic driving, which will surely make the confirmed two-player mode a complete blast.
Excite Truck does exactly what it says on the tin - puts you behind the wheel of a "big damn truck" - as Reggie put it at E3 - and with its speed and crazy jumps, it'll excite the dead. The controls will take time to adjust to but once you grasp it, the visceral feeling of it is awesome. All it needs is a decent sensitivity setting and everything will be great.
Although a precise release date has yet to be confirmed, Excite Truck is due to hit shops some time within the Wii launch window. We'll have loads more on it before then. Like some more screens, please Nintendo.