"A faithful port of a classic but limited racing game from Nintendo's early days."
Every time I play some version of Excitebike, I think about Big Ryan. He was a seventh grader and I was a third grader. He lived in the neighborhood for most of one year, where we were two out of around eight total students that attended the same one-room school (somewhat improbably, we had a younger classmate who was also named Ryan).
Since Big Ryan lived just down the road from me and there were almost no other kids around, we occasionally hung around together and wished there were more interesting things to do, or we borrowed NES games from one another. Neither of us had many games, but he had Excitebike and he lent it to me for a few days. I played it for a few hours and then returned it, feeling at the time that it was not particularly "exciting." So of course I now find myself playing it every few years, as Nintendo releases port after port and I end up owning virtually all of them.
3D Classics: Excitebike is the most recent take on the classic game that I've yet played and (as far as I know) marks the last time Nintendo has bothered to bring the title to new hardware, except in the form of a Virtual Console release of Vs. Excitebike for Wii U. This particular port job was handled by Arika, which over the years has given similar treatment to all sorts of games from Nintendo and other companies, when not developing fresh concepts of its own. The port job is fairly straightforward, and its primary selling point is (rather obviously) the option it gives players to toggle on a 3D effect and enjoy the illusion of depth.
Excitebike has always been a simple game, and given how little has changed, that's still true. You can choose between "Selection A" and "Selection B," or "Design." The first option lets you race on any of five tracks, trying for a top time that sometimes feels all but unbeatable. The second is the same, except now there are other racers who will potentially cause you to take a spill if you brush against them from behind (alternatively, you can pull ahead of them and nudge their front wheel to make them crash and burn).
The first track is fairly simple, the second one is rather more complex, and the difficulty ramps up considerably from there. Your bike is capable of accelerating normally, or you can hold down the B button for a turbo boost that quickly fills its temperature gauge and will cause you to overheat if you rely on it. Additionally, you can pop a wheelie as you come over the top of a bump or launch from an overhang, and that will generate a slight boost of speed. Mastery of the technique is critical if you want to snag a top time, but the game never moves all that quickly even if you're in great shape.
Obstacles take the form of various dirt mounds and ramps, along with rough patches on the track and even missing segments where you'll fight your way through turf. There's not a lot of variety, but it's sufficient for the paltry five available tracks. You can also design your own gauntlets. On the NES, this option was exciting until the moment you powered off the system, at which point your creations was lost. Here, there are eight slots that you can name and save, plus you can come back later to make edits.
The track editor works just fine, once you get the hang of things. You can speed slowly along a track and press the A button to place an obstacle, at which point you must scroll through available options and decide what you want to place. Creating a reasonably lengthy track takes a bit of time, but the process isn't excessively tedious. When you're done, you can save your track or give it a test run. Once tracks are created, you can then access them from the menu and the game will keep track of your best time so you can keep trying to improve, or challenge friends to see if they can top your performance. I'm not sure there are many younger gamers out there these days who will care to participate, which makes me rather sad. I would have loved tormenting friends with this mode if it had been available during the days when I borrowed it from Big Ryan. Times change.
Besides the improved interface for the track editor, the game also boasts the expected 3D visuals. You can put your 3D slider to its full effect on your 3DS hardware, then choose from settings on the in-game menu to further tweak things. Very basic backgrounds have been added and some other minor visual effects such as basic parallax scrolling, so that 3D Classics: Excitebike looks very close to the original... only with added depth. I'm quite alright with the minimal tweaking, because if you're going to play Excitebike, you might as well experience it authentically.
Sadly, there's not much to keep a gamer engaged in 3D Classics: Excitebike. That was true of the original, so it's only natural that it would carry over to the update. If you're looking for a lot of variety in tracks and such, you're better off investing in the excellent Excitebike: World Rally for Wii instead. But if you are in a nostalgic frame of mind and want to enjoy the classic experience in a mostly unaltered but still slightly improved state, this is a good bet. I only wish I could show Big Ryan the sweet track I just built!
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 13, 2016)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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