Excitebike for the Nintendo Entertainment System was one of the first pseudo racing games for the system. It has all the thrill and jumps of motocross with good mechanics, but rather than a real race, it was more like the other motorcycle pilots are mere obstacles that hinder your time. While the game itself is good and enjoyable to play, there’s just not much here. There are two modes with five tracks and a design mode that lets you make your own tracks. If you’re looking for a game to play with friends, this is a single player experience, unless you’d like to have one person design a course and torture the other player to play it.
The game has some solid mechanics. The A button uses the throttle to propel you forward while the B is some sort of faster throttle that will make you faster at the cost of increasing the heat of your bike. Once you have too much heat, the game will warn you with an ear piercing siren, before you’re forced to wait for your bike to cool down. The easy way to reduce your heat is stop using the faster throttle. You can also ride over zippers that you’ll find which will cool off your bike down to its minimum.
When you’re flying through the air with some sick 8-bit jumps, you can use the directional pad to tilt your bike so it lands with the terrain. Landing imperfectly can cause you to have a bounce which will lose you speed and or momentum. If you completely fail a landing such as facing nose down into a ramp, you’ll fall off your bike.
When you tumble off your motorcycle, you’ll be forced to button mash as you run from where you land to your bike. It’s a neat cost for your failure and rivals can fall off their bikes to the bottom of the track. Then there is a potential to run over your fellow racers, which will only hurt yourself as you tumble from your bike. In later courses there are tiny barriers that you’ll need to hold left to do a wheelie over or they’ll trip you. If you hold left too long, you’ll fall off your bike. The game is all about that risk and reward or just punishing you for your idiocy.
Tracks each have four lanes with several jumps that can for the most part be used to jump from or land. Pressing up or down switches you between the four lanes. Beyond the jumps, there are patches of rough terrain you’ll want to avoid and sometimes the tracks will turn entirely into rough terrain. You’ll need to complete two laps on each track to complete it. You’ll never see a view of the closed circuit course, it’s just a straight ahead affair.
For the most part, each track feels similar with mere color palette swaps in the later courses to give them more of a nighttime feel. Some tracks are heavier on some elements than others, such as the fourth track introduces a few dangerous obstacles that will trip you. The higher the course number, the more difficult it is and less time you have to finish under the third place time. It’s that lack of time that becomes dangerous with the more awkward courses. With that said, Excitebike has a stage select open from the beginning, it’s easy enough to just skip a course to experience the entire game in around fifteen minutes.
I recommend always using the top lane, since courses have super ramps that will launch you forward over many obstacles. The major catch is these super ramps are only at the top two lanes. These super jumps will never appear at the bottom two lanes, which seems like a massive oversight. Plus, if you stay in the top or bottom lane, that means you only have to dodge two lanes of riders rather than three if you’re in the middle. Sure you have more room to dodge with three lanes, but you’ll never really need that many lanes to dodge obstacles.
The first mode A is more like a time trial or practice run. You select from the five courses and compete against yourself I suppose. Completing one course gets you to the next. If you fail to beat a minimum time listed as third place, the game kicks you back to the course selection screen.
Since mode B still forces you to finish under a certain time, it’s more like a hard mode. I always found mode B far more entertaining as other racers are on the track with you. This makes things interesting, and you can even cut them off which trips them and sends them tumbling. It is perhaps the most enjoyable part of Excitebike. Of course if you mess it up or ram them, the same can happen to you.
The sad thing is the game should probably have a mix of a practice than an actual race, but as I pointed out before mode A is easy, mode B is hard.
In a world where design modes are getting more popular and included with plenty of games, Excitebike was one of the first. Starting the mode sends you to a new menu where you can play modes A and B with your designed course along with menu items to design, save, load and reset. You can only save a single track and once you reset your game, you’ll need to load it again.
When designing your course, you have nineteen types of elements to set. Everything from the game is here for you to add. There are ramps, zippers, rough patches, big elements that take up the entire screen, and even segments that remove track. You can end your track any time you want, but if it’s too long, you’re forced to cap it off with a finish line and then you set how many laps to run. The more sadistic designers will force people to do a full nine laps, but you can choose one through nine respectively.
Once you’re done making your masterpiece, you can play it and the interesting thing here is the game comes up with its own third place time for you to beat. After you play through your course, the game gives you a time and even keeps track of your fastest time. It is both impressive and necessary for a game of this generation to add that sort of replay value in a game that lacks content.
MANY MENU OVERSIGHTS
With Excitebike being one of the early titles for the system, the game will make you use that reset button on your console. There is no way out of the course selection screen. Failing to meet a third place requirement to get to the next race in either mode will send you back to that selection screen. The irony is design mode has a reset menu option that will send you back to the title screen.
A FUN GAME FOR A FEW MINUTES
With enjoyable mechanics, I just wish there were more content with the game. A level editor is nice to have, but I’d rather have more pre-built courses that come with the game to offer more longevity beyond a few minutes every few years. Excitebike is definitely a classic, there’s just not much here. It’s a game that demanded a sequel on the system and never received it, at least in the United States.