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Excitebike (NES) artwork

Excitebike (NES) review

"I loved playing Excitebike as a kid. It was fun vrooming around, and seemed a tribute to what makes old-skool games so much better than today's stuff. And if that's the case, then I'm glad we moved beyond that stage. Because looking at this game now, it is distinctly less than impressive. It's still quite fun in moderation, but too simple and unbalanced to really be worth it.. "

I loved playing Excitebike as a kid. It was fun vrooming around, and seemed a tribute to what makes old-skool games so much better than today's stuff. And if that's the case, then I'm glad we moved beyond that stage. Because looking at this game now, it is distinctly less than impressive. It's still quite fun in moderation, but too simple and unbalanced to really be worth it..

The premise is simple - race your motorbike to victory. The track is nothing more than a straight strip across the bottom of the screen, four lanes wide. You must navigate around obstacles such as oil slicks and barriers while hitting ramps and jumps. Land wrong, run into another biker, or smack an obstacle and you crash. Several precious seconds are wasted as you slowly make your way to your bike and get back into the race. Oh, and watch out for overheating. Step on the accelerator for too long, and your engine will die out, once again knocking you out of the race for a few seconds. And that's pretty much it.

There are five different tracks. Yep, that's it. Five. And each race should take around 2 minutes or less. So, if you want to, you can see the entire game within 10 minutes. But wait! There's two modes! See, the first mode lets you race alone, merely trying to beat a given time. But the second one has you racing against competitors. You can see how well you stock up against the computer! Except, not really. It just means there's three other racers on the screen. When one either gets left behind the back of the screen or races ahead to the front, it merely reappears on the opposite side. So you're not really racing against anyone; it just means there's a few more obstacles on the screen. What a ripoff.

So in the end, you're simply racing against the clock. And even that's kind of cheap too. See, getting "first place" (your rank depends entirely on your finishing time) on the first and second tracks is pathetically simple, and almost as easy on the third. Thus, in the end, only the fourth and fifth tracks provide any sort of challenge (and are really the only ones that are interesting anyways). So in reality, you're down to racing two tracks for a challenge. It's a first generation NES game; we shouldn't expect anymore. But that's why there are better games out there.

As for the tracks themselves, they're all right. Yeah, there's lots of obstacles and such, but you have to wonder what the optimal number of obstacles are. Suppose, for instance, that there's a lot of triangle-shaped hills all in a row (like in track 4). Sure, bypassing them all is cool if you can pull it off, but any slight mistake will slow your progress to a crawl. Not only does this knock out your chances of winning, but it's also rather boring. Yet merely a couple in a row present no challenge, long stretches of nothing are boring, and we can't just have lots of fun ramps all the time. And in the end, no matter how many differently shaped triangle hills there are, they're all still the same sort of challenge. The tracks do a good job with what they have but, unfortunately, what they have is rather limited. The obstacles just can't provide enough variety and still be flexible enough to provide a great experience. The technology just isn't there.

But, fortunately, the actual racing aspect is somewhat fun. The odd acceleration scheme gives some semblance of strategy and skill, as does angling in the air. See, the A button is the slow gear, which generally heats your bike up to its half way point. The fast gear will raise your temperature more, but if you overheat your bike will stall for a few seconds. So, like all good racing games, you must use your faster speed intelligently. When you get airborne (which is quite often), you will also be able to lean forward or back, which affects your hang time and speed as well. These two items, along with switching lanes, is what makes or breaks your times, and mastering them is essential.

But in the end, that's not too tough to do. Obviously you want to use your high gear as much as possible without overheating, and it will soon become obvious when the most logical times to use it are. Likewise, it shouldn't take too much practice to figure out whether to lean forward or back in a current situation, and switching lanes is merely dependant upon memorizing the tracks or having quick reflexes. In the end, you'll move from novice to skilled in almost no time at all, leaving one wandering how much more you could get out of the game.

And yet, despite the negative attitude of this review, many people find this game to be extremely fun. I myself thought the same many years ago when the game was fairly new. Why is that? I'm guessing it's all just based off of the same principle that makes Solitaire so popular. It's something mindless to do. As long as you don't think about it and play it in small doses, it can be great fun. After all, you're controlling a motorbike and doing all sorts of neat jumps and stuff. Beating your times can hold your interest for a little while, and simply navigating your way through can seem pretty cool. But don't think about it. Actually look at the game, and you'll see that it's rather banal and simple. You'll see that there are far greater games to play, and far better things to do with your time. But like so many people are with Solitaire, you can still get into it without thinking about it, and still enjoy what little it has to offer. As a mindless game, it's fun.

Oh, and if anyone out there really needs to know how the aural and graphical presentation is, well, it's a first generation NES game. Don't expect much, because you're not getting much. Still, there is one major problem. The 5th track is grey, which happens to be the same color as oil slicks. Thus, they're almost invisible, making avoiding them a bit more difficult than normal. It's not horrendous, but it is stupid.

Funny how certain games become classics. In our nostalgia-induced illusions, we often forget problems and frustrations, or at least rationalize them away. Excitebike is praised by many, yet does not stand up to its own scrutiny. The game is too simple, too short, and too outdated to be considered great. There's even some obvious stupid ideas, like the color of the fifth track. Yet it is easy to ignore or miss these problems if you just want to waste time on a game. As such, it's very hard to reccommend this now, as any newcomers won't have the tunnel vision from nostalgia. But even recognizing the problems won't stop long time fans (including myself) from enjoying the occasional track or two.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (September 24, 2005)

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