canuckeh's Excitebike World Rally (Wii Shop) review

Petty illegal rally

 

Excitebike is one of those games that you either like or really like. There is no middle or alternative ground. Somewhere between its simplistic, rarely imitated gameplay and the fact that its an old game with a cheery, campy theme song is the reason why so many people have such fond memories of it. Like Ice Hockey or Punch-out, the gameplay is so distinctly…Nintendo Entertainment System-y that more people will care about this 24 year old game 20 years from now than last year’s million copy-selling Madden. Nostalgia plays with an unorthodox set of rules indeed. Now we have Excitebike: World Rally, a remake in the purest and most shameless sense.

World Rally feels like the kind of remake that a would-be programmer/fanatic would make at home. It’s akin to the fan-made attempt at a Chrono Trigger remake or the Left 4 Dead demake. The intro theme is a playful redux of the original song, and all the artwork and character models (and by “models” I mean “model”, the one character model of “guy on the bike”) are so alarmingly faithful to the original game that I started to ponder if I should’ve saved money and bought the original Excitebike on the Wii for half the price.

 No better place for an extreme sports track than by the oasis.

The gameplay is largely unchanged, and that works to World Rally’s favor. There are no sliding turns, no powerslides, no handbrakes, no clutch, there isn’t even a brake. Your bike travels along a horizontal plane, navigating between lanes and avoiding dirt patches and hurdles. All the while timing your wheelies on the ramps to get more air out of jumps, and subsequently trying to align your bike with the ground to not wipe out and paint the floor with your facial features. There’s also a turbo button and a need to run over chevrons with magical cooling properties to keep your bike from overheating. Oh, and new to this game are other bikers riding along the track, despite how most of your races are time trials…which leads me to believe that Excitebike races are not sanctioned events but rather consist of a bunch of drunk biker buddies driving along a public track, ruining the fun for the rest of the drivers. You can subsequently use your wheelie trick to hop over these drivers for a speed boost and concussing them.

You have two control scheme options; first you can act a fool and try steering your bike by tilting the remote. When you realize how inaccurate and annoying this method is, you can revert to playing with classic NES-style controls. But both methods require the player to shake the remote furiously to recover from a crash in an ever annoying and ergonomically-diabolical control tactic. Seriously, some people want to be able to lie down on their side or stomach, holding themselves upright with just their arms. Any time a Wii game has at least one form of shaking or “waggle”, then this lax position becomes impossible.

The upside is that the game is so simplistic and accessible in nature that you can complete the tutorial in about two minutes. That’s a legit 30-60 times shorter than the slow, overbearing tutorials for games like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Assassin’s Creed 2.

The main gameplay mode has you racing on 16 courses in time trials…time trials ran on courses featuring other bikers that don’t appreciate your reckless driving. There are ramps, dirt fields, hurdles and magic chevrons, and solid times are needed to advance. S-ranked times (for there must always be a letter rank in games higher than an A for some reason) will unlock more bike paint jobs, which gets me to Excitebike’s greatest issue.

 The track editor lets you create...more dirt tracks with hills I guess.

Excitebike: World Rally has a decidedly flimsy amount of content. Unlockable paint schemes for the bike include “yellow” and “green”... and a limited other set of colours. The game doesn’t even let the player start with all of the primary colours unlocked, light or paint-based. The 16 tracks, (all of which are based in 4 or 5 different cities with different background textures) are meager in length, similar in design, and can be completed in little over half an hour. Thus, the tutorial modes for Grand Theft Auto 4 and Assassin’s Creed 2 are longer than the entire Excitebike: World Rally experience.

There’s a four player online mode now. You and three friends or strangers (but probably strangers because lord knows the friend code system has completely shattered all hopes of ever playing Wii games online with real friends) can compete in largely lag-free races. These competitions make for a nice distraction and are fun in short doses. But it does beg one to ask; why doesn’t World Rally have an offline multiplayer mode? A split-screen mode most likely could’ve been arranged. This game strikes me as something that would be oodles more fun to play alongside a drinking buddy who’s too inebriated for Gears of War than with silent strangers over the internet.

Fans of the old Excitebike will be happy to know that the level editor is back in full force. This time, you can save many different levels, and this time, turning the game off won’t eliminate all your hard work in one battery save-less swoop. And like before, the level editor is very basic, merely letting the player insert the same set of ramps and obstacles available in the existing tracks. However, you can’t upload the tracks or race them online, so whatever masterpiece you create will be reserved for your own private gallivanting.

As far as recreating the original Excitebike racing simplicity and fun, World Rally succeeds. But the game does little to justify existing on its own, and thus only comes recommended to the most strangely-obsessed fans of the original. Otherwise, players would be better served buying the NES Excitebike on the Virtual Console for half the price.

3 stars

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