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Excitebike (NES) artwork

Excitebike (NES) review


"Though it's solidly made, and features some slightly catchy tunes to go along with its somewhat-iconic NES visuals, Excitebike doesn't really offer players a lot of depth."



In the late 80s, Excitebike was one of those games with a unique standing among gamers (who, it should be noted, were predominantly NES owners at the time). It was one of those games like Metroid, Kung Fu, or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! that enjoyed a fair bit of popularity, even if it wasn’t a “must have” title that everyone should own. It was also frequently featured in NES multigame kiosks, which meant odds were good that you knew someone who owned it, even if you didn’t yourself.

The basic premise is rather simple. You race your motorcycle down the racetrack and try to secure the best time while (hopefully) managing a first place finish in the process. With that the game shows one of the eccentricities of the genre from its day, in that although you leave the starting line alongside a group of racers, they don’t actually seem to matter once you leave them behind, while numerous other racers seem already to be racing the course even if you’ve always maintained the apparent lead. As a result, you're never really in a direct competition with anyone but yourself and the clock.

Excitebike's track features no visible turns. Each race is basically a side-scrolling dash to the finish, and you can move up and down between four lanes to avoid obstacles. There are various types of terrain which have specific effects on your motorcycle's movement. For instance, mud will slow you down, while hurdles will do the same but can be overcome somewhat if you pop a wheelie. You can turn on turbo speed by holding down the B button, which allows you to make up for lost time quickly, but you can’t rely on that burst for long because it can overheat your engine. Fortunately, special markers are spread across the track and will cool your engine down a bit.

Your biggest obstacles in most races are the ramps. Mastering the ramps is the key to winning races in Excitebike. By pressing Left and Right on the d-pad, you can tilt the angle of your bike once it launches into the air. Your objective then is to try to line up the angle of your motorcycle's wheels with either the angle of the ramp you plan to hit or the more level portion of the track itself. Doing so correctly results in a quick burst of speed, whereas an improper landing causes your racer and his bike land in a crumpled heap which rolls right off the track. At that point, your rider has to run back to his bike to get back into the race, a process that costs you precious seconds.

The game features three available modes, with the first being a single-man time trial that tasks you with securing the best time, while the second mode features the aforementioned additional racers. This mode can be fun for those who enjoy causing a bit of mischief, since making other riders collide with your rear tire will cause them to crash. Of course, the downside is that your own motorcycle will also hit the dirt. Finally, there’s the game’s iffy third mode to consider...

As a proud entry in the "Programmable Series" line of NES titles, Excitebike features a design mode which allows you to create your own track with whichever obstacles you please. That's the good news. The bad news is that this function was designed with the Japanese Famicom Data Recorder in mind, which allowed players to not only design their own courses, but to save and share them with friends. Despite the presence of "Save" and "Load" functions within the game, it predated the advent of battery back-up for NES games, while an equivalent to the Data Recorder was never released outside of Japan. In short, you can design courses to your heart's content, but you can't keep any of them. Thus, one of the game’s most novel features finds its value significantly eroded.

Though it's solidly made, and features some slightly catchy tunes to go along with its somewhat-iconic NES visuals, Excitebike doesn't really offer players a lot of depth. The two racing modes have only a small number of tracks to compete on and as noted, using the Design mode will only augment that on a temporary basis. Furthermore, there is no multi-player mode, meaning you're on your own for these races while your friends have to settle for cheering you on from the stands.

So, does Excitebike hold up well today? Certainly, it's a solid game with a unique racing dynamic, but the lack of content or multiplayer limits it quite a bit. A modern player who is unconcerned with pure nostalgia might find superior value in the similar experience offered by, Excitebike: World Rally from Monster Games (the developers responsible for Excite Truck and Excitebots: Trick Racing), which is available for WiiWare. Though that newer game lacks the solo-racing time trial mode, it makes up for it with a variety of tracks and backdrops set across different countries, multiple bike designs, and online components that not only allow for multiplayer, but also let you share any custom courses that you create.

Excitebike is a fun classic to count as part of your NES library, and a good game to break out on occasion for nostalgia's sake. If you want a superior experience built around the same core mechanics, though, you're better off with something a little bit newer.

Rating: 6/10

LBD_Nytetrayn's avatar
Freelance review by David Oxford (April 20, 2013)

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