18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker by Sega is a game that’s always been seen as a bit of a joke, it certainly doesn’t appear to take itself terribly seriously in any case. Sadly it gets lumped in with games like Big Rigs and those awful jokes you see on Steam Early Access. Don’t be fooled though, it’s a proper arcade game with all the bells and whistles that Sega would put into one of their more straight-faced titles.
18 Wheeler is, as you might guess from the name, a game about driving a truck. It’s a checkpoint based driving game that has you hauling a trailer through four stages set in various parts of the USA. As well as a time limit there is a scoring element based on how much damage your cargo takes along the way and there is an evil rival trucker to beat to the finish line. Beating your rival gives you access to a bonus stage which unlocks upgrades for your truck such as a better horn that makes traffic move out of your way quicker and a bigger engine for more torque. It’s a fairly standard arcade racing format but with the twist of a slightly offbeat theme.
The original arcade version was built for the Sega NAOMI platform and was released in 2000. Operators had a choice of cabinets from a basic upright with a bench for players to perch on through to a giant, deluxe sit-down affair. It was also ported to the Dreamcast, Playstation 2 and Gamecube where it was met with middle to low review scores. The main criticism levelled at it was the length. 18 Wheeler is a short, pure arcade game and it was a full-price release in a time when consumers and reviewers were growing accustomed to longer and more complex games. Although the home versions had a few extra game modes besides the basic arcade port, the general consensus was that it was a good rental title and nothing more.
Even though I really like 18 Wheeler, I have to admit that for most people it’s a little lacking in longevity. The difficulty curve is initially quite steep but once you grasp the basics you’ll be able to beat the arcade mode with every truck within a few hours. The scoring element keeps things going for a while but it’s probably not a game you’re going to make a long-term time investment in. For me this is something that I’ll play for an evening and then put it back on the shelf for a few months before coming returning to it.
So what exactly does keep me coming back to it? It’s a quirky game by a company that knows more than most about making a solid arcade racer so it’s got that going for it but it’s more than just that. I’m a big fan of Sega, the Dreamcast and the arcade games of that era in general and I have a bit of a weakness for goofy low to mid budget games so 18 Wheeler ticks a lot of boxes for me. Even though I know that most of my enthusiasm is based on nostalgia, I still feel that it’s a good enough game to give a recommendation to. You certainly won’t be paying full price for it these days, if you pay for it at all, and the gimmick alone will guarantee that most people will have at least a couple of hours of fun with it. It may not have the lasting appeal of more established classics or Euro Truck Simulator 2’s appeal to truck enthusiasts but for arcade fans and people looking for something a little offbeat, 18 Wheeler is a solid choice.
Bonus video: Because this write-up is a little short, here’s a slightly longer video than usual. It’s a basic all-clear run of the game, including all bonus stages. I captured it from the Gamecube version, played on the Wii.