When it comes to high-speed driving on Nintendo consoles, the action pretty much begins and ends with one name: "Mario Kart." The Wii version was last year's best-selling game worldwide, and no one has made a serious effort to challenge its dominance in the genre.
Take a look at some other Wii racing titles. Games like "Emergency Heroes," "Cruis'n" and "Wacky Races: Crash & Dash" are among the worst-reviewed products on the system. And if you prefer more realistic driving, forget it: There's nothing like Sony's "Gran Turismo" or Microsoft's "Forza Motorsport" on the Wii.
Leave it to Nintendo to provide the most viable competitor to its own "Mario Kart" monster. The "Excite" racing franchise, which was revived in 2006 with "Excite Truck," probably won't convert many "MK" die-hards, but its latest installment is certainly something different.
--"Excitebots Trick Racing" (Nintendo, for the Wii, $39.99): More accurately, this racer from the Monster Games studio is flat-out weird. The vehicles are robotic animals -- frogs, turtles and grasshoppers, for example -- with wheels attached. And each creature can morph into a lumbering, two-legged behemoth.
The inventive racetracks are filled with obstacles and leaps, and you earn stars by executing midair stunts. Even if you don't finish first, you can still win a race by collecting more stars. As you'd expect, you can also collect items that boost your speed or slow down your opponents.
And then things get really freaky. Occasionally, your bot will sprout an arm that lets you play a midrace minigame. You can try to throw a dart at a bull's-eye, bowl a strike or hit a clown with a pie. The most challenging competition is the "poker race," in which you run over playing cards to create poker hands. Such inspired lunacy makes for a very lively party game. Three stars out of four.
--"NASCAR Kart Racing" (EA Sports Freestyle, for the Wii, $39.99): This game is pretty freaky, too, particularly if you aren't expecting to see Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or Carl Edwards as giant-headed homunculi. It's an odd strategy, sticking real-life stars into a fanciful version of a sport, but it will amuse younger NASCAR fans.
The usual kart-racing gimmicks are here, with plenty of rockets, oil slicks and other nuisances you can fling at your opponents. And the tracks are far more creative than your typical NASCAR oval, with a variety of jumps, shortcuts and alternate routes to keep you focused.
"NKR" places an unusual premium on team racing; keeping close to your teammate helps both of you charge up your turbo engines. NASCAR's dependence on advertising is also faithfully reproduced, with corporate logos popping up all over the game (even on its cover). It's not as deep as "Mario Kart," but it's far more entertaining than more realistic NASCAR sims have been. Two stars.